The Bible’s answer
Various older English Bible translations, such as the King James Version, use the word “hell” in some verses. (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27 a) As the religious artwork in this article shows, many people believe that hell is a place of eternal fire where the wicked are punished. But is that what the Bible teaches?
In this article
Is hell a place of eternal suffering?
No. The original words translated as “hell” in some older Bible translations (Hebrew, “Sheol”; Greek, “Hades”) basically refer to “the Grave,” that is, the common grave of mankind. The Bible shows that people in “the Grave” are in a state of nonexistence.
The dead are unconscious and so cannot feel pain. “Neither work, nor reason, nor wisdom, nor knowledge, shall be in hell.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10, Douay-Rheims Version) Hell is not filled with sounds of pain. Instead, the Bible says: “Let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave [hell, Douay-Rheims].”—Psalm 31:17; King James Version (30:18, Douay-Rheims); Psalm 115:17.
God has set death, not torment in a fiery hell, as the penalty for sin. God told the first man, Adam, that the penalty for breaking God’s law would be death. (Genesis 2:17) He said nothing about eternal torment in hell. Later, after Adam sinned, God told him what his punishment would be: “Dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19) He would pass out of existence. If God were actually sending Adam to a fiery hell, He surely would have mentioned it. God has not changed the punishment for defying his laws. Long after Adam sinned, God inspired a Bible writer to say: “The wages sin pays is death.” (Romans 6:23) No further penalty is justified, because “the one who has died has been acquitted from his sin.”—Romans 6:7.
The idea of eternal torment is repugnant to God. (Jeremiah 32:35) Such an idea is contrary to the Bible’s teaching that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) He wants us to worship him out of love, not fear of eternal torment.—Matthew 22:36-38.
Good people went to hell. The Bibles that use the word “hell” indicate that faithful men, such as Jacob and Job, expected to go to hell. (Genesis 37:35; Job 14:13) Even Jesus Christ is spoken of as being in hell between the time of his death and his resurrection. (Acts 2:31, 32) Obviously, then, when “hell” is used in these Bibles, it simply refers to the Grave. b
What about Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus?
Does hell represent separation from God?
Has anyone been released from hell?
Yes. The Bible provides detailed accounts of nine people who went to the Grave (translated as “hell” in some Bibles) and were brought back to life by resurrection. c If they had been aware of their surroundings in hell, they would have been able to speak about that from personal experience. Significantly, though, none mentioned being in torment or experiencing anything at all. The reason? As the Bible consistently teaches, they had been unconscious, as if in a deep “sleep.”—John 11:11-14; 1 Corinthians 15:3-6.
a Most modern English translations do not use the word “hell” in Acts 2:27. Rather, some use expressions such as “the grave,” (New Century Version); “the realm of the dead,” (New International Version); “the dead” (The Passion Translation). Others simply transliterate the Greek word as “Hades.”—Holman Christian Standard Bible, NET Bible, New American Standard Bible, English Standard Version.