(One of many Bible articles on the "Wielding the Sword of the Spirit" web site at www.matthewmcgee.org)
Home Page * Copyright Policy * Feedback

Hell Part 2: The Differences between Hades and the Lake of Fire

Matthew McGee

Now let's get into a little more detail by becoming familiar with some Hebrew and Greek words that are key to understanding this topic.

Sheol (Hebrew) - It is the non-permanent place or temporary address of the disembodied souls of dead. It is not the grave or sepulcher, nor is it the eternal location of the souls of the dead. It is the same as the Greek word "Hades", which we will look at in a moment. Prior to Jesus Christ's resurrection, both the souls of the evil and the righteous went there after death. It is translated "grave" 31 times, "hell" 31 times, and "pit" 3 times in King James Version (KJV) of the Bible.

Sheol (or Hades) has two separate halves. One side was and is reserved for the torment of the evil, while the other side, called "Abraham's Bosom" in Luke 16:22, was for the comfort of the righteous. There is and impassable canyon, or gulf, between the two halves. When Christ was resurrected, he led the righteous out of Sheol to Heaven. Many (probably not all) of the Old Testament saints were resurrected into their immortal bodies at that time (Matthew 27:51-53). Since then, the souls of all of the saved people go directly to Heaven when their bodies die. The lost people still go to Sheol and join the lost people of the Old Testament in torment on one side of the canyon when they die. The other side of Sheol formerly known as Abraham's Bosom has been vacant since Jesus Christ led the saints within it to heaven after His resurrection.

Sheol (or Hades) is described as being "in the heart of the earth" in Matthew 12:40 and is said to be below, down, or beneath in passages such as Deuteronomy 32:22, Isaiah 14:9, and Ezekiel 31:16.

The English word "Hell" refers to a place of eternal punishment for the wicked. Its meaning does not distinguish between the two separate places for the wicked to be punished, one temporary for the soul, and the other, the Lake of Fire, permanent for the soul and body. Nor does its meaning include the place of comfort for saints prior to Christ's resurrection. In normal English conversation, "Hell" is used only in the negative sense, with no saved people ever going there.

This caused some inadequate translations of "Sheol" and "Hades". Often these words are translated "Hell", which, as just explained, is rather ambiguous and non-descriptive. In many other places "Sheol" and "Hades" are translated as "grave", but the grave is only the place for the body after death, not the place for the soul. This confusion often occurs when the verse refers to a righteous man going to "Sheol", such as men like Jacob, Joseph, (Genesis 37:35) and Job (Job 14:13). Of course, these men did not go to a place of torment, but to the comfort side of Sheol (Hades), called Abraham's Bosom.

Hades (Greek) - It is identical to Sheol (Hebrew). It is the non-permanent place or temporary address of the disembodied souls of dead. It is not the grave or sepulcher, nor is it the eternal location of the souls of the dead. Hades is translated "Hell" 10 times and "grave" once by KJV. It is the place for the soul, not the body.

Gehenna (Greek, but originally from a Hebrew name) - translated "Hell" all 12 times in KJV It is the permanent place for destruction of the "... soul and body ..." (Matthew 10:28). It is a place of "... fire that never shall be quenched" (Mark 9:45). In most of the references, it is clear from the context that those who enter Gehenna, do so in their bodies, not merely as bodiless souls. For this to happen, it must occur after the resurrection of the damned at the great white throne of judgment. Therefore, Gehenna is the Lake of Fire described in Revelation 19 and 20. It is presently uninhabited, but the Beast and the False Prophet will be cast into it at the end of the tribulation (Revelation 19:20). One thousand years later, Satan will be cast into it (Revelation 20:10) and will be followed shortly by the lost people of all previous time periods (Revelation 20:15). They will all enter Gehenna together, in there resurrected bodies, where they will remain in torment for all eternity.

This Revelation 20 passage makes it clear that Hades and the Lake of Fire are not the same place. At the great white throne judgement at the end of the 1000 year kingdom, those in Hades will be removed from Hades, as Revelation 20:13 says, "... hell (Hades) delivered up the dead which were in them ...." And those which were in Hades will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14-15). Note that the timing of this relocation of the lost occurs just before where Revelation 21:1 says, "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea." Hades, which will be emptied in Revelation 20:13, apparently will them be destroyed, since it is in the heart of the first earth.

The future destruction of the wicked is symbolized by the Valley of Hinnom to which Gehenna refers. It is a place south of Jerusalem where the bodies of dead animals and rubbish were taken to be burned. The Valley of Hinnom was also the site of much human sacrifice to the pagan god Molech (2 Kings 23:10, 2 Chronicles 28:3, 33:6, Jeremiah 32:35). The fire burned constantly in the valley since additional fuel was frequently being cast into it.

"And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet, till there be no place" (Jeremiah 7:31-32). Here we see that in the Valley of Hinnom is a place called "Tophet" whose name means "place of fire".

"For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared; he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it" (Isaiah 30:33).

limne pur (Greek) - "lake of fire" occurs 4 times, all in Revelation 19 and 20. This is Gehenna, into which the resurrected damned are cast. Limne means "lake" and is translated as such all 10 times it occurs by the KJV. Pur means "fire" and is translated so 73 times by the KJV while being translated "fiery" once.

Other key terms

tartaroo (Greek) - Refers to "Tartarus" and only occurs once in 2 Peter 2:4 where it is translated "hell" "For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment ...." This is probably a separate place from Hades, and may be a place only for fallen angels. There are no Biblical references to people going there.

grave (English) - The place for the fleshly body after death, sepulcher. It is not the abode of the soul or spirit.

abussos (Greek) - Abyss. It is translated "bottomless pit" 5 times, "deep" twice, and "bottomless" twice by KJV. It is where Satan will be locked up for the 1000 years of Christ's reign on earth (Revelation 20:1-3). This Abyss is also where the Legion of devils begged Jesus not to send them in Luke 8:30-31. And this Abyss is the bottomless pit that will be opened at the fifth trumpet judgment of Revelation 9:1-11. The beast that will come out of it at the fifth trumpet is mentioned in Revelation 11:7 and 17:8. This Abyss is thought by many to be the same as the impassable gulf described in Luke 16:26.

chasma (Greek) - a gaping opening, chasm, or gulf. It is translated "gulf" in its only occurrence in Luke 16:26, where it is the canyon separating the torment and comfort sides of Hades.

Abraam kolpos (Greek) - Abraham's Bosom (Luke 16:22). Abraam is translated "Abraham" all 73 times. Kolpos is translated bosom 5 times and creek once (Acts 27:39).

paradeisos - Paradise. It is translated "paradise" all 3 times by the KJV. "Paradise" is not the English translation of any other Greek word in scripture. First we hear the words of the thief and Jesus Christ on their crosses in Luke 23:42-43, "And he 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." In 2 Corinthians 12:4, Paul tells how he was "... caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." In Revelation 2:7, Jesus told the church of Ephesus "... To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God." The tree of life is also mentioned in Revelation 22:2, in the new heaven and new earth, where it appears to be not just one tree, but a type of tree of which there are more than one. Since the three references show paradise to be in different places, then either paradise has been relocated once and will yet be relocated again, or it is a general term.


Sheol (Hebrew) and Hades (Greek) are the temporary place of torment for the souls of the wicked dead. Prior to Christ's resurrection, saints were kept and comforted in the now vacant half of Hades, known as Abraham's Bosom. Gehenna (Greek, but from a Hebrew name) is the Lake of Fire for the permanent place of torment of the souls of the wicked dead in their resurrected bodies. Hell is a rather general and inadequate term that is often used to refer to either Gehenna or the torment side of Hades, both by those who know the basic difference between these two specific places and by those who do not.

Roman Road to Salvation How to be saved.

Home Page * Copyright Policy * Feedback

Copyright © 1997 Matthew McGee. All rights reserved.