Updated: Dec 14, 2019
In the New Testament there are two words which are translated in our English Bibles as Hell. Much confusion has been caused by this general translation. These words should both be understood from their Hebrew equivalent. Let's examine these two words and their origins.
The first word is from Strong's G1067, Gehenna. This word is stated in the concordance to be of Hebrew origin. It means Ge-Hinnom or Valley of the Son of Hinnom. In Strong's concordance it is H1516 and H2011. It is a valley in Jerusalem. It is accessed through the potsherd gate which is south of the city. Its first use is in Matthew 5:22 - “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. “ (KJV)
The Valley of Gehenna has a bloody, destructive history. It is historically a place of abomination to the Jews. In Rabbinical Judaism and early Christian writings it was seen as the destination of the wicked. This valley is also called the Valley of Slaughter and Topheth. Key scriptures which need to be read are: Isaiah 30:33, Jeremiah 7:31-32, 19:1-15.
Because of its nasty history and because fires were often burning in the valley it became known and associated as a Valley of Judgment. So, for Jewish readers it would have been understood that people who were thrown into Gehenna were going to be judged and destroyed by God. To translate this word as hell literally does it an injustice. It is a Hebrew word and is a literal place on earth. While it does mean “destruction” and “judgment” it is not an eternally burning lake of fire. In scripture it speaks of “where the worm dies not” and “where the fire is not quenched”(Mark 9:43-48) The word worm in this scripture is a maggot which eats dead flesh, and the word hell is Gehenna. The meaning of a ”fire which shall not be quenched” means that the fire which is burning will continue until everything is consumed. In other words, no one will put the fire out. Maggots only eat decaying flesh, so unless a person believes in a spiritual, supernatural maggot, then this reference is referring to a literal place of destruction on earth, where mortals will be destroyed and consumed; not a lake of fire which burns eternally. Actually, Jesus here is making reference to Isaiah 66:24 where the exact phrase is used and is referring to the armies which Y'shua will destroy with His coming. Context is everything when interpreting the Bible.
The second word is first used in Matthew 11:23 - “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. “ (KJV) Here the Greek word is Hades (Strong's G86) and it literally means grave. We must understand that there is no such place as Hades. That is Greek Mythology. I would no sooner believe in a place called Hades than I would believe in their Greek gods and customs. The word that should be used here is the Hebrew word Sheol. It is Strong's H7585 and it literally means the grave.
In Revelation 1:18, 6:8, and 20:13-14 we find this word hades used and translated as hell. Death and hades is not destroyed, but death and the grave. Death and the grave were caused by the sin of man in the beginning. Death and the grave were the wages of our sin. Jesus takes back the keys to death and the grave when He conquered them. Accordingly, death and the grave are the last enemies to be destroyed – Revelation 20:14. Hosea states this same thing in clarity. (Hosea 13:14) The word used for grave in Hosea is Sheol.
This word should have been translated as grave, not hell. There is no fire burning here and the only destruction being spoken of is that they are physically going to be killed or die, and they are going to the grave. In the above scripture, Matthew 11:23, a city cannot go to the grave. What is being spoken of here is the people of Capernaum and the people of Sodom. Jesus is saying that the people of Capernaum are going to be destroyed, and their city with them. The reasoning is that the people of Capernaum heard more sermons and saw more miracles than any other by Jesus. He spent much time in Capernaum during His earthly ministry and yet the city apparently remained, predominantly, in sin despite all of these great works. Sodom, Y'shua contends, would have repented if as many works had been done in it and therefore it would not have been destroyed. Again, there is NO BURNING LAKE OF FIRE! These scriptures are speaking about the bringing down; the desolation of a mighty city. It will be brought low. The people will be a part of this.
Now, I know that many will argue that in Luke 16 we have the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The word used for hell in those scriptures is Hades. So, it would appear that in the grave the rich man is burning. This is not the case! Lazarus is no more in Abraham's bosom (or paradise) than the rich man is in a burning lake of sulfur. First of all, this story goes much deeper than the modern Christian understands and is outside the scope of this lesson. To say the least, Y'shua was teaching a lesson here that his readers would have understood based on the traditions of their day, and them being the children of Abraham. The reference of Lazarus would have been to the servant of Abraham, Eleazar. The concordance tells you that Lazarus was the Greek translation of the Hebrew name Eleazer. Assumptions should not be made without having all the parts, neither should one scripture be used to build a doctrine. This is the only such usage of the word.