A Bible study from Faithbuilders Fellowship.
Requests for printed copies should be sent to: Faithbuilders Fellowship, 8060 Wing Span Drive, San Diego, CA 92119


OUR ANSWER to this question begins with consideration of an earnest petition to God by the prophet Job. This patient man wished to escape the personal effects of Satan's affliction. At the height of his agony, Job pleaded with the LORD: "O that thou wouldest hide me in sheol,...until thy wrath be past..." (Job 14:13 American Standard Version [ASV]). Sheol is a word in the Hebrew language, variously translated hell, grave and pit. All 31 appearances of the word 'hell' in the Old Testament King James version of the Bible are translated from sheol. This means that Job really asked to be hidden in hell!

Other significant uses of this important word must also be examined if one would really learn about hell. Perhaps you recall how the faithful patriarch Jacob feared that his grief and sorrow over the loss of his beloved son Joseph might hasten his death. What he said was that he would "go down into sheol [hell] unto my son mourning" (Gen. 37:35). And the prophet David foretold that Messiah would not be left in hell [sheol] (Psa. 16:10). On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter quoted from Psalm 16, and affirmed that its testimony, "Thou [God] wilt not leave my soul in hell [hades]...," was written of Jesus (Acts 2:25-30). That Psalm and Peter's quotation from it translated into Greek testify that the Hebrew word sheol, the Greek word hades, and the English word hell are all of the same meaning. Thus, Bible teaching is that at death not only the wicked, but also the righteous, are in hell.--Psa. 9:17, Prov. 7:27, 9:18, Isa. 14:15, Ezek. 31:17

This truth would be appreciated by more readers of the Bible if the KJV translators had used the same word to represent sheol each time it appears in the Hebrew manuscript. But they wrote 'grave' for sheol 31 times, often when reference was to faithful servants of God (four other Hebrew words are also translated grave); and they wrote 'pit' for sheol three times (nine other Hebrew words are also translated pit).

In an effort to eliminate such unjustified discrimination, the translation committee for the ASV Bible determined to leave sheol untranslated each of the 65 times it appears. That was in 1901, four years (1897) after Joseph Rotherham copyrighted The Emphasized Bible, which prints hades (the Greek equivalent) each time sheol appeared in the Hebrew manuscript.

No Activity in Hell

The Bible teaches that "the wicked" are "silent in sheol"; that "there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in sheol" (Psa. 31:17, Eccl. 9:10). This indicates that sheol (hades, hell) is not so much a location as a condition, status, or state. This is affirmed by the meaning given in Professor James Strong's Greek Dictionary of the New Testament to word #86, hades, which we quote in full: "properly unseen, i.e. "Hades" or the place (state) of departed souls." The Bible's repeated teaching that "the soul that sinneth it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4,20,24) is assurance that death is the state of all souls that have died. All captives in death are in the same condition or state, the status of death--non-existence.

Although Job did not fully understand God's plan to rescue mankind from death and its condemnation (Gen. 3:15 [Rom. 16:20], Gen. 12:3 [Gal. 3:8], Gen. 22:18), he prayed to God "...that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands" (Job 14:13-15). That affirmed his confidence in resurrection! Many other holy prophets of God also wrote of the coming time of blessing and resurrection.--Psa. 49:15, Isa. 65:9,17-19, Ezek. 16:53-55, Dan. 12:2,3, Hos. 13:14

And Jesus assured (in view of the sacrifice He was determined to complete) that all who die in Adam would at a future time "hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto a resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto a resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28,29 RSV) There is no justification for the word 'damnation' seen there in the KJV. The Greek word krisis means and has been translated 'judgment' in John 5:22,27,30 and in 38 other uses in the New Testament, and should be also in John 5:29, as it is in most translations. This promise of our Master is indeed good news when it is understood that in true judgment, a trial always precedes the sentence (the outcome of the trial). And when God's "judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness."--Isaiah 26:9

Sacrifice for Sin

Scriptures testify that we have been "bought with a price"; that Jesus "gave himself a ransom for all"; that Jesus shall reign so as to bless his entire "purchased possession" (1 Cor. 6:20, 7:23, 1 Tim. 2:6, Eph. 1:14). The price of this purchase was His sinless human life given as a sacrifice for sin, that reconciliation between God and man might be effected. Paul testified further "that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust," and that God "hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all, in that He hath raised Him from the dead."--Acts 24:15, 17:31

The Biblical testimony regarding hades, only a portion of which is referred to in this folder, concludes in the book of Revelation. "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death" (Rev. 20:13,14). In this manner Jesus showed the awakening of all the dead that are in hell; and also the blessing of all under the condemnation of death but not yet dead; and as well the blessing of all those unable to find reasonable solutions to the perplexing issues of daily life which keep them in restless turmoil and discontent--those in "the sea." Specially note that death and hell are cast into the lake of fire after the dead which were in them shall have been delivered out of those states or conditions. What great cause for hope is that promise!

Full Opportunity to Learn and Obey

Earlier verses in Revelation 20 portray the 'first-resurrection' blessing bestowed upon all who had faithfully followed their dear Master. Those mentioned in the subsequent verses just discussed are the non-elect. When they are brought out of the condition of death, out of hell, they do not automatically enter into eternal life because there is no knowledge, no wisdom, no device in sheol. During the sleep of death there would have been no repentance, reformation, or progress to have prepared them for such a reward. Upon their awakening, the formerly unrepentant will learn many important lessons--and of their responsibilities to God and to their fellow men--and grow in faith, love, and obedience. They will have full opportunity to respond when "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea" (Hab. 2:14). They will come to appreciate God's purposes through Jesus. For God "will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4). Only the wilfully wicked incorrigible ones whose names thereafter are not found written in the book of life are cast into the lake of fire. --Rev. 20:14,15, 21:8

The "lake of fire" is one of many symbols used in the book of Revelation; it is not a literal place. It is a symbol of "the second death"...death from which there is no provision for an awakening (Rev. 20:14). "The second death" is in marked contrast to the universal death, which may be termed 'Adamic death', inherited from Adam by his entire human family. Adam died because of his wilful disobedience to God's specific instruction, and all share in Adam's dying life through the natural process of generation by procreation. "For as in Adam all die..." is the way the Apostle Paul expressed it in 1 Cor. 15:21. All descendants of Adam who die without having become members of God's faith family, "the household of faith" (Gal. 6:10), will have their full opportunity to come to righteousness of character and perfection of being tomorrow, through repentance and belief in Jesus. All such will have full freedom of choice to cooperate with God when his righteous principles are written in human hearts during the coming Earthly Kingdom Age. That will be their time of individual eternal judgment which Jesus promised in John 12:47,48. Mankind will be freed from the present influence and deception of Satan, the wily opponent of truth and righteousness. He will have been effectively imprisoned, bound, restrained, so as not to deceive.--Rev. 20:1-3


Most New Testament appearances of the word 'hell' translate the Greek noun gehenna. The meaning of gehenna is entirely different from that of the noun hades. Gehenna is an English form of a Greek word constructed from two Hebrew words, one meaning gorge or valley, and the other, Hinnom. The valley of Hinnom was an actual valley in Jerusalem used as a garbage dump. Into it was thrown all kinds of trash of the city, including even carcasses of dead animals and sometimes even the dead bodies of executed criminals. But no living thing was ever thrown into it. Its fires consumed all that burned, and what was not consumed in that manner was eaten by worms. Isaiah 66:24 doubtless refers to that dump, where "their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched."

Jesus used gehenna as a symbol of utter destruction (Matt. 5:22,29, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15,33, Mark 9:43,45,47, Luke 12:5--see also James 3:6). It is of the same meaning as "the lake of fire" in Revelation, discussed above. The strongest use of gehenna is in the parallel accounts, Matt. 10:28 and Luke 12:5, where our Master emphasizes God's authority and power. While the Pharisees could persecute their enemies to the death, only God's judgment could prevent one from receiving an awakening from the dead, were their sins to be so totally wilful as to deserve the severest punishment.


All of Adam's posterity share the effects of his disobedience. Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6), and by God's grace the results of the free gift through Christ Jesus are to be as extensive as the results of Adam's disobedience (Rom. 5:15-21). Jesus assures us that He has "the keys of death and of hell" (Rev. 1:18). In God's due time our Master shall unlock those prisons and call forth all captives. A full opportunity under favorable conditions for an eternity of blessing and joy awaits them! The years of their experience under disobedience and sin will seem but a moment as they view their happy prospects of eternal life in God's kingdom.

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