Glossary of Terms


Copyright 1996-2005 Robert Nguyen Cramer

In the KJV Old Testament, the English word hell is always a translation of the Hebrew word sheol <Strong's #7585>. (In other verses of the KJV Old Testament, sheol is also translated as "the grave" or "the pit.") Many modern translations do not use the word "hell" in the Old Testament; instead, they use "Sheol" (ESV, Goodspeed, JB, NASB, NJB, NRSV, REB) or "the grave" (NIV) or "death" (Moffatt, TEV) or "the world of the dead" (CEV).

In the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, more than 100 times the Hebrew word sheol is translated into the Greek word hades <Strong's #86>, which is translated 12 times in the KJV New Testament as "the grave" or "hell". (The Greek Septuagint was "the Bible" that was most often used by Paul and other early Christians.)

In the KJV New Testament, 12 times the English word hell is a translation of the Greek word gehenna <Strong's #1067>, 10 times it is a translation of the Greek word hades <Strong's #86>, and 1 time it is a translation of the Greek word tartaros <Strong's #5020>. Of these three Greek words, hades is used in the Greek Septuagint more than 100 times, and tartaros is used 3 times. The Greek word gehenna is not used at all in the Septuagint, but pharagga Ennom (Valley of Hinnom), from which gehenna is derived, is used several times.

Gehenna literally refers to the Valley of Hinnom, to which the Hebrew Old Testament refers 13 times -- including 4 times in the book of Joshua (written prior to the Jewish diaspora) and 5 times in the book of Jeremiah (written during the Jewish diaspora). The Valley of Hinnom is translated in Aramaic as Gehinnom, to which the New Testament Greek refers as "gehenna." In the KJV New Testament, gehenna is most often translated as "hell," but some modern translations (Goodspeed, Moffatt, NAB, and Schonfield) use the word "gehenna" in the text instead of "hell," and many others include references to "gehenna" in the footnotes.

For clarification of the distinction between hell, Gehenna, Hades, and Sheol, see Harper's Bible Dictionary explanations at:

hell -

Gehenna -

Hades -

Sheol -

See also:

heaven -

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

hell, an English word used to translate Heb., Sheol; Gk., Hades; and Heb., Gehenna. In Christian tradition it is usually associated with the notion of eternal punishment, especially by fire. This idea appears in Isa. 66:24, but it is not clearly associated with a place. Jewish writings from the third century b.c. onward speak of places of punishment by fire for evil spirits and the wicked dead (1 Enoch 18:11-16; 108:3-7, 15; 2 Esd. 7:36-38). The book of Revelation describes a lake that burns with fire and brimstone in which the wicked will be eternally punished (Rev. 19:20; 20:14-15; 21:8).

Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, Second Edition,

edited by Everett Ferguson (NY: Garland Publishing 1999, article on "Hell" by Allen L. Clayton on pages 516-517)

Hell. Place or state of final punishment for the damned. Although some biblical translations employ the term "hell" for both hades and gehenna, the latter properly denotes "hell"; the former, the intermediate place or state between death and the last judgment...

What the church struggled with in regard to hell was the question of the duration of its punishment...

The overwhelming majority of Christian writers held that the wicked were to be eternally punished...

At about the same time that Tertullian was rejoicing in the eternal doom of the wicked, Clement expressed reservations about an everlasting chastisement. In the Miscellanies, he argued that God does not punish, he corrects; the punishing actions of God are remedial in nature (Str. 7.16). Thus, the wicked do not suffer forever but are eventually brought to repentance (Str. 7.16). Unfortunately, Clement was not altogether clear on the idea of remedial punishment...

No such equivocation is found in the writings of Origen. Origen agreed with Clement that God did not chasten vindictively, but remedially. More important, however, was the fact that everlasting punishment meant that someone was capable of thwarting the will of God forever, since it was the divine will that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4; Princ. 3.6.5). As long as hell remained, all were not redeemed and God's will was frustrated. For Origen, there was no soul so wicked that it could not be cleansed eventually from its evil (Cels. 6.25-26). Indeed, every soul was in need of purification because every sould had been tainted by its union with the flesh (Hom. 8 in Lev.). All souls must therefore endure the trial by fire mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, which "awaits us all at the end of life" (Hom. 24 in Lc.). The length of purgation depended on the soiled condition of the soul. Those souls that were merely tainted by the flesh could be purified in an instant, whereas those that had been truly contaminated by sin would require a longer period of cleansing.

In Origen's view, hell would eventually be emptied of the wicked because th punishment of fire would eventually burn off the dross of the soul and enable it to turn once again to God. Indeed, even Satan himself would one day turn once again to God as an obedient servant (Princ. 3.6.5-6; cf. Jerome, Epist. Pachom. 7).


Topical index of terms
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