The Greek word Hades (the Greeks pronounced it hah-dess) has been translated both as Hell (which many today think of as a place of torture) and as the Grave in other Bible versions (such as the King James). Since one word can’t mean two very different things, which translation is correct?
Hades was originally the name of the Greek god of the underworld, but the term eventually came to mean the place of his realm, ‘the place of the dead.’ And especially among Christians and Muslims, it started to be thought of as a place of torture of wicked souls.
However, an insight into what the ancient early Christians understood the word to mean can be gained from looking at how it was applied in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Ancient Scriptures of IsraEl (which appears to have been the ‘Old Testament’ Bible that Jesus and his Apostles quoted).
There the Hebrew word Sheol is translated into Greek as Hades in every instance.
And if you take the time to look each instance up, you’ll see that these are obvious references to the grave or the place of the dead, not to a place of conscious torture.
(See Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10 as an example).
But, was this the same thing that Jesus and his Apostles were talking about when they spoke of Hades?
You might notice, for example, what Jesus’ Apostle John wrote about what will happen to those in Hades as he described it at Revelation 20:13. In the NIV Bible translation (as well as in several other Bibles), the verse is rendered this way:
‘The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them.
And each person was judged according to what they had done.’
So, notice that in this reference to Hades, people were spoken of as coming out of that place (being resurrected), and after that, they were judged.
As you can see, they hadn’t even been judged and condemned yet!
Therefore, Hades is probably better translated as grave in this instance, or even better as the place of the dead in that scripture.
And something you might notice is that Hades isn’t the only Greek word that is translated as Hell in the Bible. For if you would like to see a complete list of these words and the descriptions of their true meanings, please see the linked document, ‘Is There a Burning Hell?’
The Bible text and translator notes are public domain. Everything else is either copyright to their respected owners (all rights reserved), or available under a Creative Commons license. Our Bible text, translator notes, and commentaries use CamelCase for Biblical names. Our official websites are 2001.bible, 2001translation.org, and 2001translation.com.