In this topic, I will discuss the meanings, definitions, and usage of the word “hell” in the King James Version of the Bible. Most Christians today assume that “hell” has one meaning in the Bible, which is referring to some form of eternal punishment. I have already covered this false idea of an eternal punishment many times in previous articles, particularly in the usage of the phrase the “lake of fire.” I also talked about the mistranslation of the words olam and aion into “for ever.” However, now I want to talk about it specifically from the word “hell.”

Origin of Hell

Etymology: Middle English, from Old English, akin to Old English helan to conceal, Old English German helan, Latin celare, Greek kalyptein
1a (1) : a nether realm of the devil in which the dead continue to exist, Hades (2): the nether realm of the devil and the demons in which the damned suffer everlasting punishment – often used in curses (go to ~) or as a generalized term of abuse (the ~ with it)
1b Christian Science: ERROR, 2b SIN
2a: a place of misery, torment, or wickedness (war is ~ W.T. Sherman)
2b: a place or state of turmoil or destruction (all ~ broke loose)
- Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition

The original meaning of the Old English word was “to hide or to conceal,” but it changed over the years. This is largely due to two sources. One is from St. Augustine’s book City of God, written in the 5th century, in which he misinterprets the Latin words speculum and aeternum from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate which both have double meanings of “unending time” and “a period of time.” St. Augustine translates them to both mean “eternal,” instead of a period of time, thus leading to the phrases “eternal punishment” and “eternal life.” The second source is Dante’s Divine Comedy (see picture above), written in the 14th century. Dante described hell in nine levels. The third round of the seventh level had burning plains with an eternal rain of fire. However, Dante’s ninth level of hell was a lake of ice, where Satan was frozen from the waist down. So the idea of the land on fire with a rain of fire only came from one specific level of the book. The combination of these two sources, plus the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, made this definition of hell a reality.

Words for Hell

In the King James Bible, according to Strong’s Concordance, the word “hell” is used 54 times; 31 times in the Old Testament, and 23 times in the New Testament. There are four words that are translated into English as “hell”:

1. Tartaroo (Greek, in NT) – translated as “cast down to hell” only once
2. Sheol (Hebrew, in OT) - translated as “hell” 31 times, “grave” 31 times, and “pit” 3 times
3. Hades (Greek, in NT) - translated as “hell” 10 times, and “grave” 1 time
4. Gehenna (Greek, in NT) - translated as “hell” 9 times, and “hell fire” 3 times

We will now discuss the context in which each word is used in the Bible.


Tartaroo is only used once in the whole Bible, so let’s look at this word first:

2 Peter 2:4 – For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, (tartaroo) and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; (KJV, comment added)

This verse says that angels are put in tartaroo, where they are to be reserved before judgment. So if this is before judgment, tartaroo cannot mean an eternal punishment. Punishment cannot be given before judgment. Therefore, tartaroo has nothing to do with a realm of punishment.

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