Is There A Difference Between Hades, Hell, and Sheol? A Bible Study

by Dr. Michael L. Williams · Print Print · Email Email

If you ask someone to define the word hell you will hear a variety of definitions. Many people define hell as an eternal destination of the wicked. Some define hell as a time period a person goes through when they’re reincarnated from one life to another. Others define hell as the habitation of the dead, while others yet say that hell is simply nothing more than something that is difficult to experience. The Bible uses words Hades, Sheol, and even Gehenna when referring to hell. For Christians, a question then becomes, is there a difference between Hades, Hell, and Sheol? A Bible study will provide us the answer to this question.

Is There A Difference Between Hades Hell and Sheol

What is hell?

As was first mentioned, people have many definitions for the word hell. Historically the English word for hell has the following history and origin (1):

Old English- helhelle, “nether world, abode of the dead, infernal regions,” from Proto-Germanic- haljo, the underworld” (cognates: f. Old Frisian- helle, Dutch- hel, Old Norse- hel, German- Hölle, Gothic halja- hell”) “the underworld,” literally “concealed place” (compare Old Norse hellir- cave, cavern”), from PIE kel- “to cover, conceal” “to cover or hide” (1).

How does the Bible define hell?

The Bible uses the word hell 54 times throughout the Old and New Testaments (KJV). The first mention of the word hell is found in Deuteronomy 32:22 as follows: “For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.” In this passage, the Lord saw that there were Israelites who were practicing idolatry and not honoring the “Rock of salvation” that created them (Deuteronomy 32:1-25).

The Lord further described how they would be consumed in his anger and shall be burned in the lowest hell, which sets on fire the foundations of the mountains. He also described this place as the place he will send them where the teeth of beasts and the poison of serpents will attack them so that they will experience a continual terror. The Hebrew word used for hell in this verse is the word Sheol, which is used to describe the underground world of the dead. If we combine this word with its description from the Lord, Sheol can be described as an underground location where people who have rejected God are tormented by fire, the gnashing of teeth of beasts, and the poison of serpents.

The first use of the word hell in the New Testament is found when Jesus spoke about it in Matthew 5:22 as follows:

“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.”

In this verse, the word hell comes from the Greek word, Gehenna. Gehenna was commonly known as the name of a city dump outside of Jerusalem where people burnt their trash and the fire never went out. Jesus used this word for hell in Mark 9:41-48 as a comparison to the fires of hell that never go out as described in the Old Testament.

In the New Testament, whenever the word hell was used to describe the underground location where people who have rejected God are tormented forever by fire, the gnashing of teeth of beasts, and the poison of serpents, a different Greek word was used. This word was the word Hades. Hades is the New Testament Greek word for the Old Testament Hebrew word Sheol. We know this because Peter used the word in Acts 2:27 when quoting from Psalms 16:10 which uses Sheol when referring to Hell: “Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (Hades), neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” (See also Matthew 12:40; Ephesians 4:9-10, and Philippians 2:9-10 with references to Christ being in hell located in the center of the earth).

Can the word hell simply mean the grave?

Some say that there is no hell as a place for eternal torment and suffering. Instead they say that hell is only the grave. However, they base their belief on a few verses where the words Sheol and Hades were translated as grave or pit. The problem with this is that the references that are used deny the context of what is being presented. When you look at the context you find many problems with translating Sheol and Hades as a grave, which is normally the Hebrew word qeber. There are many graves, but only one Sheol or Hades. Man can put someone in the grave (qeber), but never puts anyone in Sheol or Hades (1 Kings 13:29-30). Man can touch a grave (qeber), but does not touch Sheol or Hades (Numbers 19:16). Someone can have their own grave (qeber), but the Bible never speaks of each person having their own Sheol, or Hades (2 Samuel 3:32).

Is there another meaning of the word hell?

Finally, there is one more word that is translated as hell, which is the Greek word Tartaroo in 2 Peter 2:4 where God chained the wicked angels that sinned in Genesis 6:1-4 (See also Matthew 25:41; Jude 6). Tartaroo, commonly known as Tartarus, is understood in Biblical Greek as being the deepest abyss of Hades (2).


Many people have differing definitions of the word hell. Hell is commonly defined as nether world, abode of the dead, or infernal regions. The Bible defines hell as an underground location in the center of the earth where people who have rejected God are tormented by fire, the gnashing of teeth of beasts, and the poison of serpents. The Hebrew word Sheol is defined the same as the Greek word Hades. The word Sheol or Hades do not simply refer to a grave. One other Greek word translated as hell is the Greek word Tartaroo, which is the deepest abyss of Hades.

More about hell here: Is There Really a Place Called Hell?

Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version. (1) Google. (2014). “Apostle”. Retrieved from Google, (2) Strong, James. New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Strong’s number G5020, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

jenika December 19, 2018 at 9:33 am

wow thanks freind! what a fantastic study on hell


Edet Okon February 1, 2019 at 8:33 am

I will like to have more knowledge and fact concerning Tartarus, Gehenna,Hades, Hell, Paradise. I want to know more about this 5 places.


artiewhitefox whitefox October 15, 2019 at 2:40 pm

God’s lioght purifies all things of sin. Elements did not exist as we know them. That is why God burns the earth to the lowest depths or lowest Hell. The wicked will look like a lake of fire at the second resurrection.


Jack Wellman October 15, 2019 at 3:41 pm

Hello my friend. No, only Jesus’ or the blood of the Lamb of God takes away sin. Light only exposes our sin so that we see our need to repent. Jesus is the only way (Acts 4:12). God’s light, whatever that is, does not take away sin. Jesus died for that. If light could take away sin, why did Jesus have to die?


rozsa May 19, 2020 at 9:13 pm

ve been to hell n chamber death every time i tried get out my chamber of death moved closer to black pitr


Jack Wellman May 20, 2020 at 9:10 am

Hello Rozsa. Thank you for your comment. Hell is not even open for business yet, so all “dreams” or “experiences” or books written about someone dying and going to hell are false. These cannot even be proven. And the fact is, they are probably only wanting attention or to sell books. Your experience cannot be true according to Scripture. See Dan 12:1-3; Rev 20:12-15; Heb 9:27.


Robert M. Armstrong April 18, 2021 at 6:17 pm

I am confused by your article: Did Jesus’ (spirit) go to Sheol, Hell or Hades immediately after His death on the cross? OR, was he simply entombed until His resurrection? Do we know how long Jesus’ body was actually in the tomb? At what point did He leave?

Is there a Hades where Lazarus was called to by the rich man for a finger tip of water? Is it a divided place where the saved souls are separated from unsaved souls?

There seems to be nearly the same amount of controversy over these things as the Pre, Mid and Post Tribulation theories.


Jack Wellman April 18, 2021 at 6:34 pm

Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” In Acts 2:29–31, Peter tells us that David, in writing this psalm, foresaw the resurrection of Christ, “that he was not abandoned to Hades [that is, his soul wasn’t], nor did his flesh see corruption” (notice that Peter reads the second line as a reference to Jesus’s body or flesh). Thus, prior to Jesus, at death, souls normally went to Sheol (or Hades), and bodies (flesh) decayed. We’re all familiar with the latter, but the former is more opaque. A quick Bible study will show us why Peter thinks that David’s prophecy in Psalm 16 is such good news.

In the Old Testament, Sheol is the place of the souls of the dead, both the righteous (like Jacob, Genesis 37:35, and Samuel, 1 Samuel 28:13–14) and the wicked (Psalm 31:17). In the New Testament, the Hebrew word Sheol is translated as Hades, and the description of Sheol in the Old and New Testaments bears some resemblance to the Hades of Greek mythology. It is under the earth (Numbers 16:30–33), and it is like a city with gates (Isaiah 38:10) and bars (Job 17:16). It is a land of darkness — a place where shades, the shadowy souls of men, dwell (Isaiah 14:9; 26:14). It is the land of forgetfulness (Psalm 88:12), where no work is done and no wisdom exists (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Most significantly, Sheol is a place where no one praises God (Psalm 6:5; 88:10–11; 115:17; Isaiah 38:18).

In the New Testament, the most extended depiction of the afterlife is found in Luke 16:19–31. There we learn that, like the Hades of Greek mythology, the biblical Sheol has two compartments: Hades proper (where the rich man is sent, Luke 16:23) and “Abraham’s bosom” (where the angels carry Lazarus, Luke 16:22). Hades proper is a place of torment, where fire causes anguish to the souls imprisoned there. Abraham’s bosom, on the other hand, while within shouting distance of Hades, is separated from it by “a great chasm” (Luke 16:26) and is, like the Greek Elysium, a place of comfort and rest.

While much mystery remains, the picture begins to take shape. All dead souls go down to Sheol/Hades, but Sheol is divided into two distinct sides, one for the righteous and one for the wicked. The righteous who died prior to Christ dwelt in Sheol with Abraham, and though they were cut off from the land of the living (and therefore from the worship of Yahweh on earth), they were not tormented as the wicked were.

Luke 23:43 doesn’t say that Jesus would be in the presence of God; it says he would be in the presence of the thief (“Today you will be with me in paradise”), and based on the Old Testament and Luke 16, it seems likely that the now-repentant thief would be at Abraham’s side, a place of comfort and rest for the righteous dead, which Jesus here calls “paradise.”

Finally, following Jesus’ death for sin, He journeys to Hades, to the City of Death, and rips its gates off the hinges. He liberates Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, John the Baptist, and the rest of the Old Testament faithful, ransoming them from the power of Sheol (Psalm 49:15; 86:13; 89:48). They had waited there for so long, not having received what was promised, so that their spirits would be made perfect along with the saints of the new covenant (Hebrews 11:39–40; 12:23).


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