Bible Truth Examiner


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Scriptures are cited from the King James (Authorized) Version, unless stated otherwise.

SOME who have denied the existence of hell may be surprised to learn that the Scriptures mention two hells. We find this in Revelation 20: 13, 14, which reads, “death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.” Bible scholars generally agree that the lake of fire means hell, so how could one hell be cast into another (the lake of fire), if there were only one hell? This passage plainly refers to two separate hells, for one hell could not be cast into another hell if there were only one hell.

The Hebrew and Greek words from which our English word hell is translated also prove two Bible hells. The word hell occurs 31 times in the Old Testament and in every case it is translated from the Hebrew word sheol. Sheol is also translated by the English word grave 31 times and by the English word pit three times in the King James Version. Sheol conveys the idea of two hells, as is evident from many Old Testament Scriptures. Two examples show this: “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Psalm 16: 10). Sheol here denotes the first hell – a condition from which recovery is possible. Job 7: 9, however, reads: “As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.” Sheol here denotes the second hell – a condition from which recovery is impossible.

The Greek word hades occurs 11 times in the New Testament – 10 times it is translated by the English word hell and once it is translated by the English word grave. From the context of these occurrences, we see that the Greek word hades indicate a condition from which recovery is possible. It corresponds to the Hebrew word sheol in respect to the first hell. We know this because the Apostles used the Greek word hades to correspond to the Hebrew word sheol when they quoted from the Old Testament. Some examples include Acts 2: 27 and 1 Corinthians 15: 54, 55, which were quoted from Psalm 16: 10, Isaiah 25: 8 and Hosea 13: 14. That a recovery from the hades condition is possible is seen by examining some of the Scriptures in which it occurs, such as Acts 2: 27 and Revelation 1: 18; 20: 13. Hence the Greek word hades denotes the first hell of the Bible.

The Greek word gehenna occurs 12 times in the New Testament and is also translated hell. Gehenna is the Greek form for the Hebrew “Valley of Hinnom,” which lay just outside Jerusalem and served as a sewage and garbage burner to that city. How appropriate that it is used to illustrate final and complete destruction. This will be discussed in a later study.

The word hell also occurs once in the New Testament translated from the Greek word tartaroo. In this case it refers to the restrained condition of the fallen angels, so we will not discuss it here. 

Three Common Views on Hell

(1.) It is a great abyss of fire and terrors, where the wicked are tortured eternally.

(2.) It is a place of two compartments, one of which is the same as that mentioned above for the wicked, and the second, called paradise, being a place of bliss for the righteous, where Jesus, the thief on the cross and others supposedly went at death.

(3.) The first and second hells are conditions of unconsciousness, oblivion, or destruction, and not places at all. The term first hell describes a condition of oblivion, unconsciousness, which all of Adam’s posterity enter at death as a result of his fall into sin and from which there is hope of recovery through a resurrection; and the term second hell describes the utter annihilation of those who commit totally willful sins against the full light of Truth, a condition from which there is no hope of recovery.

The best method of determining the correct view is to examine the Scriptures which relate to hell and see which of the three above definitions fits best in all cases. If any of the definitions fits in one case but contradicts in other cases, or fits in a number of cases but contradicts in still others, it cannot be the correct view. But if one of these definitions fits in every case, we may have confidence that we have the true definition. Let us pursue this course now.

By examining the occurrences of the words sheol and hades, please note what the sense of the passage would be if the word sheol or hades were translated hell fire, place of torment or place of bliss, and then note whether the translation would be smooth and consistent with the context if it were rendered oblivion. The Scriptures pertaining to the first hell will come under ten separate headings, so as better to present and understand the subject, and to test each passage by the three above definitions. In the Scripture quotations we have left the words sheol and hades untranslated, therefore, we may see where words were used in the Hebrew and Greek texts.

The Evil go into the First Hell

(1.) Psalm 55: 15 (Revised Version) indicates that the evil go into the first hell. David was a righteous man, a man after God’s own heart, and here he prays: “Let death come suddenly upon them, let them go down alive into sheol; for wickedness is in their dwelling.”

If hell is a place of torture as mentioned in the first view above, no righteous man would pray such a prayer, for it would show that he did not have proper love for his enemies (Matthew 5: 44). Nor would his prayer be proper if we take the second view of hell, for it would also place the wicked in the torture part of hell. Only by taking the third view, that hell is a condition of unconsciousness, oblivion, could such a prayer be proper, and then only in certain particularly wicked cases like the Emperor Nero who murdered his mother and one of his wives, and burned Christians as torches in his garden while mocking their groans.

The Good also go to the First Hell

(2.) The good, as well as the evil, go to the first hell. Genesis 37: 35 reads: “All his [Jacob’s] sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into sheol unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.”

Jacob did not expect to go to a place of torture. He indicates that it was sorrow suffered in this life that was leading him toward the death state and that would finally bring him there. Those sorrows could not have led him to a paradise portion of hell, for if so, he would have been joyful at the prospect of joining Joseph in bliss! Only the third definition fits here, for if Jacob expected to go to a condition of unconsciousness, he would be sad indeed at the prospect of going there and being with his son Joseph.

Some claim that Jesus was in paradise between His death and resurrection, citing Luke 23: 42, 43 as proof: “And he [the dying thief] said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

What did the thief ask for? It was that when Jesus would come into His Kingdom, He would remember him. And as Jesus did not come into His Kingdom on that day, and has not yet come into his Kingdom, He did not promise that the thief would be with Him in paradise on that day. On the contrary, Jesus made a promise to him on that day which was not fulfilled on that day, but which will be fulfilled when Jesus turns the whole earth into a paradise. Then the dying thief will be with Jesus in paradise. Luke 23: 43 is improperly punctuated in the King James Version and therefore gives a wrong thought. The sentence should be punctuated as follows: “Verily I say unto thee To day, shalt thou be with me in paradise [when paradise is restored].”

Things which put People into the First Hell

(3.) Things which put people in the first hell. 1 Corinthians 15: 55, 56 indicates that sin does so: “O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin.” Since this passage is a quotation from Hosea 13: 14, it will be commented on later in another category.

Death also puts people into hell. 2 Samuel 22: 6 and Psalm 18: 5 both read: “The cords of sheol were round about me; the snares of death came upon me” (Revised Version). This passage is an example of comparative parallelism. In Hebrew poetry, rhyme of thought is used (instead of rhyme of words, as in English). The same thought is repeated, but in different words. The last clause, therefore, has the same meaning as the first. The first definition of hell does not fit here, for David did not expect to go to a place of torture when he died; nor would he have been in sorrow if he expected to go to the paradise part of a hell of two compartments. The third definition, unconsciousness, oblivion, is the only one that fits here, and it is in harmony with the parallel thought, “the snares of death,” for the sorrows leading to it were experienced by David.

Trouble puts one into the first hell. Psalm 88: 3 reads: “For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave [sheol].” Just as in the preceding text, the first and second definitions of hell do not fit. The expression, “my life draweth nigh unto the grave [sheol],” is the parallel of the expression, “for my soul is full of troubles”; both mean the same thing according to the parallelism of Hebrew poetry.

Pain also brings one to the first hell. Psalm 116: 3 reads: “The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell [sheol] gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.” By “the sorrows of death” and the parallel expression “the pains of hell [sheol],” David would not have expected to go to a place of torture in hell, nor would he have expected to go to a place of bliss, for there would have been no pain there. But understanding the parallelism, the third definition fits this passage, for he spoke of such pains as bring one to the death state of unconsciousness, which parallel the thought of the sorrows of death which compassed him about.

Hell entered at Death and left at the Awakening of the Dead

(4.) Hell is entered at death and left at the awakening of the dead. 1 Samuel 2: 6 reads: “The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the sheol, and bringeth up.”

Here we find a double parallelism. The Lord killeth is paralleled with bringing down to the grave (sheol); and he maketh alive is paralleled with his bringing up. This double parallelism shows that hell is the opposite of life: that there is no consciousness, torment or bliss in sheol; those who are there are dead, and will remain there until they are brought back from the tomb in the resurrection day.

Hell is the Opposite of Life

(5.) Hell is the opposite of life. Job 21: 13 reads: “They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave [sheol].” The prosperous course of some who are not the Lord’s people is described here, and the days in which they live are contrasted with sheol, here translated grave. Thus sheol is shown to be the opposite of life, therefore only the third definition fits here.

Psalm 30: 3 reads: “O LORD, thou hast brought up [delivered] my soul from the sheol: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.” This passage shows that to be kept out of sheol means to be kept alive. Therefore, sheol must be a condition in which there is no life, if to be kept from it is to be kept alive. The first and second definitions cannot fit, for there could be no torture or bliss there.

Conditions existing in Hell

(6.) Conditions that exist in hell. Psalm 6: 5 reads: “For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave [sheol] who shall give thee thanks?” David, a righteous man, would not go to a torture place; and if there were a place of bliss in sheol and he were in it, he would be thanking God; but being in death (Acts 2: 29), he was unable to remember God, and in sheol was unable to give Him thanks, so he must be in the condition of unconsciousness where he will remain until he is awakened in the resurrection. Only the third definition fits here.

Psalm 31: 17 reads: “Let me not be ashamed, O LORD; for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave [sheol].” Here David prays that the wicked be silent in sheol. If any of the wicked were in torture there, they would not be very silent, but would be crying terribly. And, being wicked, they would surely not be fit for a place of bliss in sheol. Only the third definition fits this passage, for there can be no hope for truth or anything else of knowledge, therefore, no recovery from a condition of shame while one is in the death state.

Hell implies Destruction, never Preservation in Bliss or Torment

(7.) Sheol and hades are paralleled with destruction, but never with preservation in bliss or torment. Job 26: 6 reads: “Hell [sheol] is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering.” 

Here we have another Hebrew parallelism – hell (sheol) is paralleled with destruction; therefore, there can be no torment there, nor can there be any bliss. Since sheol is paralleled with destruction, the third definition is the only one that fits here.

Sheol destroys those who enter it

(8.) Sheol destroys those who enter it. Job 24: 19 reads: “Drought and heat consume the snow waters: so doth the grave [sheol] those which have sinned.”

Just as drought and heat cause the snow waters to evaporate, so sheol destroys those who have sinned, which is all mankind, especially evil-doers, who hasten their own death; and if they are destroyed, they cannot be tortured, nor can they be in bliss. Again, only the third definition, unconsciousness, can fit here.

Material Things go to Sheol

(9.) Material things (houses, goods, etc.) go to sheol. Numbers 16: 30-33 reads: “But if the LORD make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit [sheol]; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the LORD. And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them: and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit [sheol], and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation.”

Here we find that material things, such as houses, goods, etc., as well as people, are said to have gone down into sheol (the pit); but this could not mean that such material things went into a place of bliss or torment. It simply means that they were all destroyed. Korah and his band, with their houses and belongings, all going to sheol, demonstrates that there is neither torment nor bliss there, but that it is a condition of oblivion. Only the third definition fits here.

First Hell destroyed by the Awakening of the Dead

(10.) The first hell will be destroyed by the awakening of the dead. Hosea 13: 14 reads: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave [sheol]; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave [sheol], I will be thy destruction: repentance [a change of procedure on God’s part] shall be hid from mine eyes.”

Due to the Adamic sin, as well as their own sins, the whole human family has been going down into sheol; but in this wonderful passage, God promises that He will annihilate the first hell by the awakening of the dead. It is evident that no place of torment or bliss is indicated here, for the power of sheol neither torments people, nor gives them bliss. Rather, it is the power which brings them into the condition of oblivion (Ecclesiastes 9: 5, 6, 10). If sheol were a place of bliss, why should God promise to ransom any from it? And if sheol were a place of torment, we would all have to admit that it will not endure forever, for this text says that God is going to destroy it.

God has made provision for its destruction by giving His only-begotten and well-beloved Son, our Lord Jesus, to be the ransom-price to offset the death penalty that is against the whole human family through Adam’s sin. God will, by the merit of Jesus’ sacrifice, ransom mankind from the power of sheol (the death state) and redeem them from death (the dying process). During the Millennial Age, He will resuscitate all who are dead in Adam, and thereby destroy sheol (the Adamic death state); and by the operation of the restitution process through the ministry of the Christ, He will plague death (the Adamic dying process) into non-existence, overthrowing every power that it has over mankind. Repentance shall be hid from God’s eyes, that is, He will not change His purpose in this matter, but will surely fulfill it according to His Word. It is obvious that only the third definition fits the connection here. Praise God for a correct understanding of the first Bible hell!