"HELL" IN THE
KING JAMES VERSION
ALTHOUGH MANY translations
of the Bible have been made into English (some good and some not as good),
the King James Version (initially translated in 1611) is still widely used
by many people (among them being this writer). When there are possible
question marks about words that seem archaic, we try to supply parallel
words that would be helpful in getting the meaning across. This term "hell"
is one that needs our attention. The KJV scholars used the one word "hell"
to represent several different words in the original Scriptures. This can
be confusing unless one makes a background study as to which word is behind
the word "hell" appearing in our KJV (or check out other translations).
Consequently, some have misrepresented the Scriptures and have tried to
teach that the grave is the only hell (and that there is no place of fire).
What about this? What are the words in the original Scriptures, what do
they mean, and why did the KJV translators represent these words by only
one word in English? Following are gleanings, impressions and conclusions
from our study on this.
Three Words as "Hell"
In the New Testament, the KJV translators used the word "hell" somewhat
generically to represent three different Greek words. The Greek words are
(1) gehenna, (2) hades and (3) tartaros.
is found 12 times in the New Testament (Matthew 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9;
23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6). Hades is
found 11 times (Matthew 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27,31;
Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13,14) and tartaros 1 time (2 Peter
(1) Gehenna had its origin in association with the
valley of Hinnom, actually meaning this. In the Old Testament times, when
Israel went into idolatry, human sacrifices took place in this valley next
to Jeru salem in the worship of Molech as they would "burn their sons and
daughters in the fire" (2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chronicles 28:3; Jeremiah 7:31).
The valley was looked upon as being polluted and unclean, and in New Testament
times was used somewhat as a city dump with continual burning, we understand.
It was with that backdrop the term gehenna was adopted and
applied to the place of eternal punishment. Such is its coinage and use.
This is hell in what the modern usage of the term "hell" conveys.
(2) We are told that Hades, in its etymology, properly
means unseen. The basic stem of the word means seen, but it has the little
a privative before it, thus making it signify unseen. All behind
and beyond the veil of death is unseen. Thus, it is fittingly called Hades.
At death the spirit enters into the unseen world of the dead. The word
itself does not necessarily specify whether this state is bad or good.
By itself it is generic, but it can be more specific, according to the
context and other Scripture. Interestingly, in the account of the rich
man and Lazarus, it is said that in "hell" (Hades, KJV) the
rich man lifted up his eyes being in torment. With his death, Jesus is
said to have gone to Hades (Acts 2:27,31). (This is the word
behind the KJVís translation of "hell" here). Jesus had earlier said to
the thief on the cross, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke
23:43). Evidently, the story of the rich man and Lazarus unveils the situation
as it was (and perhaps is). The good and the bad are partitioned by a great
gulf, it would seem, one being in comfort and the other in discomfort.
All of this anticipates the Day of Judgment when eternal heaven and hell
(3) Tartarus is only referred to in one place in the
New Testament, 2 Peter 2:4. It is found in the words "cast them down to
hell" (to send into Tartarus). It is the bottomless abyss, the confinement
place of the wicked, fallen angels.
The English Word
But what is the actual and literal meaning of the English word "hell"
used repeatedly in the KJV of the Bible? This may come as a surprise to
many, but the English word "hell" back in 1611 meant about the same as
that being covered or unseen. The Cyclopedia of Biblical Theological,
and Ecclesiastical Literature (John McClintock and James Strong) that
first came out in 1867, says this of the term, "Hell, a term which originally
corresponded more exactly to Hades, being derived from the Saxon helan,
to cover, and signifying merely the covered, or invisible placeóthe habitation
of those who have gone from the visible terrestrial region to the world
of spirits. But it has been so long appropriated in common usage to the
place of future punishment for the wicked, that its earlier meaning has
been lost sight of." This does not negate the teaching of a place of future
punishment and fire as seen in the word Gehenna and the umbrella
word, Hades. It just throws more light on the use of the
word "hell" in the King James Version.
The O.T. Sheol
in the KJV
Sheol is the Hebrew word in the Old Testament that
corresponds to the word hades in meaning (referring to the
unseen world of the dead). The use of the English word "hell" in translating
sheol is quite interesting (and confusing for the uninformed). In the KJV
is rendered "hell" 31 times. It is rendered "grave" 31 times, and "pit"
3 times. This is quite revealing. "Hell" would be the more generic representation
of sheol, pointing only to the unseen world. Evidently the
scholars thought the context justified a more narrow meaning in the translation
when they used the terms "grave" and "pit."
The O. T. Septuagint
Further interesting and revealing is to see how the Septuagint scholars
of the Old Testament Scriptures brought this word sheol (what
they conceived to be its meaning) over in their Greek translation. The
Septuagint is a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek that
took place in Egypt about three centuries before Christ. It was quoted
and used by the New Testament writers. Reportedly in this translation,
the word sheol is found 65 times and is represented 61 times
by the Greek word hades, 2 times by thanatos
(death), and 2 times not translated. This shows us that they decidedly
regarded Sheol and Hades as meaning the same
thing. (But Peterís quoting from Psalms 16:10 in Acts 2:27 and applying
it in verse 31 makes it even more emphatic that Sheol and
are the same in meaning).
Thus in a circle we have come back to "hell." In our modern vernacular,
this signifies a place of fire and punishment. And this is indeed taught
in the Scriptures. (Woe be to those who would teach otherwise!). But it
is more exactly defined in the word gehenna. To more exactly
understand what is meant by "hell," especially in the KJV, keep in mind
the things we have tried to bring out here.