DOES “HELL = GRAVE” ?
Updated - 8/5/09
It is said that “hell = grave”. Is this what the Bible teaches?
The argument that is used to say that “hell = grave” is based upon the manner in which Old Testament Hebrew word “sheol” is translated. This word is translated “hell” 31 times, “grave” 31 times and “pit” 3 times. Therefore, people conclude that “hell = grave”.
Based upon the way the Hebrew word “sheol” is translated, it might seem reasonable that hell is the grave.
However, in Bible study, we have to remember a very important rule:
The Biblical rule is that before we draw any conclusion on a subject we must consider any verses that might bear on that subject.
If we try to learn about the meaning of “hell” by only looking at the number of times the Hebrew word “sheol” is translated “grave” and “hell”, then, yes, we can conclude that “hell = grave”. However, we must look at every verse that might teach about the definition of “hell”.
We have to check out any conclusion with every verse that might apply.
Let’s look at what else the Bible says about hell. Does God give any more definition for the word “hell”?
We read in Psalm 116:3:
The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell <07585> gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.
Here God identifies “pains” with hell. God also identifies “trouble” and “sorrow” with hell.
The three Hebrew words in this verse that are translated “pains”, “trouble” and “sorrow” are always used in connection with conscious affliction. Here are some example verses:
Psalms 118:5 I called upon the LORD in distress <04712>: the LORD answered me, and set me in a large place.
Lamentations 1:3 Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great servitude: she dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest: all her persecutors overtook her between the straits <04712>.
Genesis 42:21 And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish <06869> of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress <06869> come upon us.
Judges 10:14 Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation <06869>.
2 Kings 19:3 And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble <06869>, and of rebuke, and blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth.
2 Chronicles 15:6 And nation was destroyed of nation, and city of city: for God did vex them with all adversity <06869>.
Nehemiah 9:27 Therefore thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them: and in the time of their trouble <06869>, when they cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and according to thy manifold mercies thou gavest them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies.
Psalms 25:17 The troubles <06869> of my heart are enlarged: O bring thou me out of my distresses.
Psalms 34:6 This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles <06869>.
Jeremiah 4:31 For I have heard a voice as of a woman in travail, and the anguish <06869> as of her that bringeth forth her first child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, that bewaileth herself, that spreadeth her hands, saying, Woe is me now! for my soul is wearied because of murderers.
Habakkuk 3:16 When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble <06869>: when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops.
Genesis 42:38 And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow <03015> to the grave.
Esther 9:22 As the days wherein the Jews rested from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow <03015> to joy, and from mourning into a good day: that they should make them days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.
Psalms 13:2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow <03015> in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?
Psalms 31:10 For my life is spent with grief <03015>, and my years with sighing: my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed.
Therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing
Jeremiah 45:3 Thou didst say, Woe is me now! for the LORD hath added grief <03015> to my sorrow; I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest.
In Psalm 116:3 God gives more definition to the word “hell”. God identifies it with conscious affliction. The Hebrew words translated “pains”, “trouble” and “sorrow” always have to do with conscious affliction.
Let’s look at another verse with the word “hell”
We read in Isaiah 28:18:
And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell <07585> shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.
This verse also has the word “hell”. It is the same Hebrew word “sheol”.
If we study the context of Isaiah 28, we find that it is speaking about all of the unsaved church people throughout time and especially about the unsaved church rulers.
Isaiah 28:18 links “hell” to an “overflowing scourge”.
The word “overflowing” means to come as an overflowing flood. It is placing extra emphasis on the word “scourge”.
The word “scourge” is used as a word that means “to whip”.
We find that this Hebrew word translated “scourge” in Isaiah 28:18 is also found in the following verses about the complaints of the people concerning the treatment by Solomon:
1 Kings 12:11 And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips <07752>, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
1 Kings 12:14 And spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips <07752>, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
2 Chronicles 10:11 For whereas my father put a heavy yoke upon you, I will put more to your yoke: my father chastised you with whips <07752>, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
2 Chronicles 10:14 And answered them after the advice of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add thereto: my father chastised you with whips <07752>, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
Notice the language of “chastise” and “yoke”. These words signify conscious affliction. This language probably ties into the effort to build the temple and the other buildings that Solomon built. Those buildings took a lot of manual labor.
God uses this Hebrew word translated “scourge” in Isaiah 28:18 to indicate conscious affliction.
This phrase “overflowing scourge” identifies with the conscious affliction of being “whipped”. Isaiah 28 has been developed in the study on more proofs of the conscious resurrection of the unsaved.
Through Isaiah 28:18, God is giving more definition to the word “hell”, that it includes conscious affliction.
In Isaiah 28:18, we see the word “hell” identified with conscious affliction, an “overflowing scourge”.
We read in Matthew 11:21-24:
21 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee,
22 But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
23 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
24 But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.
In this passage, the Lord Jesus is faulting some of the Galilean cities in which He preached because they did not repent.
Lord is faulting those cities because they received much more preaching of the
Gospel than did other cities, like
As a result, the Lord Jesus says that they shall be brought down to “hell” in verse 23. The Lord Jesus also adds in verses 22 & 24 that day of judgment will be “more tolerable” for those cities that heard little of the Gospel.
those Galilean cities heard more of the Gospel message than did
The Lord Jesus is tying this word “tolerable” to hell.
This Greek word translated “tolerable” is used more than 15 times in the New Testament, so God has given good definition to this word. In every case, this Greek word signifies conscious affliction.
God teaches in 1 Corinthians 2:13 that He defines words by how He uses them in the Bible.
God has given plenty of definition for this Greek word translated “tolerable” and it always signifies conscious affliction.
For a detailed study on this Greek word translated “tolerable” please see the study of the 10 proofs of the conscious resurrection of the unsaved.
In Matthew 11:21-24 God ties this word “tolerable” to hell.
Since this world “tolerable” always signifies conscious affliction, Matthew 11:21-24 identifies the word “hell” with conscious affliction.
We read in Jonah 2:2:
And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell <07585> cried I, and thou heardest my voice.
This is describing the historical experience of Jonah in the belly of the great fish. More importantly, it is describing the experience of the Lord Jesus enduring the wrath of God for the true believers’ sins.
Notice that in this verse, God defines that “hell” includes “affliction”.
The Hebrew word translated “affliction” in Jonah 2:2 is the same Hebrew word we studied in Psalm 116:3 that is translated “trouble”. By including the same Hebrew word again, God is providing more emphasis that “hell” includes conscious affliction.
Let’s examine two verses that teach that unsaved man is already in hell in some sense:
Proverbs 9:18 But he knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell <07585>.
Proverbs 15:24 The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell <07585> beneath.
These verses teach that unsaved man is already in “hell” in some sense. Unsaved man is not literally in the grave. Rather, unsaved is under the wrath of God but not yet enduring that wrath.
Proverbs 9:18 and 15:24 further help us to see that “hell” is not simply the grave.
We have already seen verses in which God defines “hell” as including conscious affliction. Proverbs 9:18 and 15:24 teach that unsaved is already in “hell”. He is not yet enduring the wrath of God, but he is still under the wrath of God. In that sense, unsaved man is already in “hell”. Unsaved is under the wrath of God, but he is not in the grave yet.
We read in Luke 16:23:
And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
In Luke 16:23 God talks about “hell” and identifies it with “torments”. The family of words translated “torment” is always used to indicate conscious affliction of some kind.
In Luke 16:23 God is identifying the word “hell” with “torments”, a conscious affliction.
Already, we have seen a number of verses where God identifies the word “hell” with conscious affliction. We remember from 1 Corinthians 2:13 that God defines words by how He uses them.
We read additional verses where God gives more definition to the word “hell”:
Matthew 5:22 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.
Matthew 18:9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
Mark 9:43 And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:
Mark 9:45 And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:
Mark 9:47 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:
James 3:6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
In these verses, God identifies “hell” with “fire”.
The word “fire” points to the wrath of God, because God calls Himself a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).
Does God gives more information about “hell fire” or the “fire” of God’s wrath?
We must compare Scripture with Scripture to understand what God means by words and phrases.
We read in Revelation 20:13-15:
13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
We see that hell was cast into the lake of fire. Death and hell refer to the unsaved. That is because according to the Bible unsaved man is already “dead”, both in body and soul (Genesis 2:17, Romans 8:10, 1 Corinthians 15:29, Ephesians 2:1,5 1 Peter 4:6, etc.) That is because unsaved is separated from God, who is life.
For more information about the Biblical definition of “life” and “death” for mankind we have prepared two studies to help search the Bible concerning this topic:
In Revelation 20:13-15 God identifies hell with the lake of fire. That agrees with what we read in the above verses that identify hell with fire.
With what does the lake of fire identify?
Revelation 14:10 The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:
Revelation 20:10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Here, God identifies the lake of fire with being tormented with fire. The Greek word translated “torment” always signifies conscious affliction.
Revelation 20:15 says that “whosoever was not found written in the book of life” will be cast into the lake of fire. That includes all of the unsaved, all the way back to Cain.
The lake of fire is not a physical fire. We know this because you cannot be tormented “day and night” in a physical fire. Those cast into a physical fire go unconscious in a few seconds or minutes.
Rather, the lake of fire is the enduring of God’s wrath. God is a consuming fire.
Those cast into the lake of fire are “tormented”. This word is always used to signify conscious affliction.
Therefore, it is necessary for Cain, and all of the unsaved throughout time, whose bodies are sleeping in the dust, to “awake to consciousness” to endure this. Daniel 12:2 and 2 Kings 4:31 declare that the unsaved will awake to consciousness.
We have prepared a study showing 10 groups of passages that prove that the unsaved will awake to consciousness at Judgment Day.
We have seen a number of verses that identify “hell” with conscious affliction. In understanding what God means by a word, we must look at all verses that could relate. We cannot just look at a few. God has given sufficient verses that identify “hell” with conscious affliction.
This prompts us to ask an important question.
Then, why is the Hebrew word “sheol” translated “hell” about half of the time and “grave” about half of the time?
Doesn’t this imply that “hell = grave”?
Actually, God provides help that ties together all of the verses about “hell” in Luke 16:22-23.
We read there:
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
In verse 22 it says that the rich man died and was buried.
Why does God provide the extra information about him being buried?
Let’s ask another question first: Where are people buried?
People are buried in a “grave”. The rich man was put in a “grave”.
What is the next thing that we read about the rich man?
He is tormented in “hell”. The rich man is experiencing conscious affliction in “hell”.
God is saying that for the unsaved, they are put in the “grave” and for them after that comes “hell”.
Now we can see why the Hebrew word “sheol” is used for both the “grave” and “hell”.
Luke 16:22-23 teaches that when unsaved man is put in the “grave” the next step for him is to be afflicted in “hell”. That is why the same Hebrew word is translated both “hell” and “grave”.
Unsaved man goes down into the “grave” and the next thing for him is to be afflicted in “hell”.
Now we can tie all the passages together that talk about “hell”.
1. The Hebrew word “sheol” is translated both the “grave” and “hell” because when unsaved man goes into the grave the next thing for him is that he is in hell, experiencing affliction.
2. We find a number of verses that identify hell with conscious affliction because unsaved man will “awake” to consciousness at the judgment (Daniel 12:2). He will then endure the conscious afflictions of “hell”.
If we only look at the frequency of translation for the Hebrew word “sheol” then, yes, we could conclude that “hell = grave”. But, to learn truth, we have to look at everything that God says about “hell”. Then, we find that unsaved man goes into the grave, and the next step for him is the conscious afflictions of hell. So, that is why the same word identifies with both the “grave” and “hell”.
Let’s examine a verse that uses this Hebrew word “sheol”. This verse has been offered as a proof text of annihilation.
Does Psalm 31:17 teach annihilation?
We read in Psalm 31:17:
Let me not be ashamed, O LORD; for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.
The phrase “let them be silent in the grave” is used as a proof text of annihilation.
When we read this phrase we get the picture of a corpse in a grave and that can lead us to think of annihilation.
However, if we are going to come to truth concerning any verse, we have to examine it very carefully, following the rule of 1 Corinthians 2:13 to compare Scripture with Scripture. We cannot just quickly read it and come to a conclusion.
The word “grave” in Psalm 31:17 is the Hebrew word “sheol” that we have been studying. As we saw, this word is translated “grave” about half of the time and “hell” about half of the time.
Because there are two valid ways to translate this Hebrew word “sheol”, there are two different ways to understand Psalm 31:17 and we will examine both.
The first way to look at Psalm 31:17 is to read it as the KJV translators have translated the Hebrew word “sheol”. They have translated it as “grave”.
Throughout the 13,000 years of the history of the earth, the bodies of the unsaved, as well as the saved, finally end up in the grave. For both the saved and the unsaved, their body finally fails and it ends up in the grave.
The unsaved get old, like the true believers. Finally, their bodies fail and sleep in the dust. At that point, they die. According to the Bible, death is separation from God, who is life.
To further study the Biblical definition of “life” and “death” for mankind, please see the two studies:
When the unsaved die from this world and their bodies sleep in the dust, they are buried and they are “silent in the grave”. That will continue until the end of the world. Only the believers, in the soul existence, go into heaven.
However, the Bible teaches at that the end of the world, that the unsaved which are sleeping in the dust, along with the saved, will “awake” (Daniel 12:2). Both groups will “hear” the voice of God and come forth out of their graves.
We read in John 5:28-29:
28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
John 5:28-29 says that the unsaved, as well as the saved, will come out of their graves.
According to John 5:28-29 no one will remain in the grave. All will come out. Therefore, the unsaved will only be “in the grave” until the end of the world.
At the end of the world, the unsaved that have previously died will no longer be “silent in the grave” because they will no longer be “in the grave” according to John 5:28-29.
Furthermore, the Bible teaches that both of these words “awake” (Daniel 12:2) and “hear” (John 5:28-29) require a resurrection to consciousness. We have prepared two studies that show proofs of the conscious resurrection of the unsaved:
That is one answer to the statement “let them be silent in the grave” in Psalm 31:17.
For 13,000 years, the bodies of the unsaved have failed and have fallen asleep. They have died, which is to be separated from God, who is life. At that point, they were “silent in the grave”.
But, at Judgment Day, God will wake them to consciousness and they will come out of the grave. Then, they will no longer be “silent in the grave”.
There is another way to understand this statement in Psalm 31:17, “let them be silent in the grave”, if we translate the Hebrew word “sheol” as “hell” instead of as “grave”. Since it is translated both ways equally, this is a valid substitution.
The word translated “grave” in Psalm 31:17 is the Hebrew word “sheol” that we have been studying. It is translated “hell” about half of the time and in this study we have examined a number of verses in which God identifies “hell” with conscious affliction.
So, Psalm 31:17 could also be properly translated “let them be silent in hell”. The word “the” is not in the original Hebrew text.
There is another important point that we must consider:
The word “silent” makes us think of no consciousness. However, the word “silent” is used many times in the sense of no answer. The guilty one is conscious, but is “silent” because he has no answer to a Holy God for his sins.
We see an example of this truth in the parable of the wedding feast found in Matthew 22:1-14.
We read in Matthew 22:11-14:
11 And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment:
12 And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.
13 Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
14 For many are called, but few are chosen.
The king in verse 11 is God. The guests are the true believers. However, there is one guest that is not a true believer. He is the man without the wedding garment in verse 11.
In verse 12, God speaks to this man and says “friend”. This is not the normal Greek word for “friend” that we find many times in the New Testament. Rather, this is a word that signifies a companion or a nearby fellow. For example, Jesus used this same Greek word in speaking to Judas in Matthew 26:50. Judas was not a loving friend of Jesus, but rather a companion.
Going back to Matthew 22:12, God asks this man, “how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?”
God is effectively saying you do not have any covering for your sins. How can you be at the wedding feast?
What is the response of the man?
The Bible says “And he was speechless”. That is, he was “silent”.
It was not that the man had ceased to exist. Rather, the man was “silent” because he had no answer for his sins before a Holy God. That is how the unsaved will be in hell. They will be “silent in hell”. They will be conscious, but have no answer for their sins before a Holy God.
We see this teaching for the word “silent” in other verses. Below are a list of verses with this same Hebrew word translated “silent” in Psalm 31:17:
Leviticus 10:3 Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace <01826>.
In Leviticus 10:3 this same Hebrew word is translated “peace”. Aaron was silent because God’s wrath had been poured out upon his sons. Aaron had no answer that could justify his sons before a Holy God. They had sinned.
Aaron had not ceased to exist. He was just “silent”.
In the same way, the unsaved will be “silent in hell” not because they don’t exist. Rather, they will be silent because they have no answer to God.
Job 29:21 Unto me men gave ear, and waited, and kept silence <01826> at my counsel.
Psalms 4:4 Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still <01826>. Selah.
Psalms 131:2 Surely I have behaved and quieted <01826> myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.
Isaiah 23:2 Be still <01826>, ye inhabitants of the isle; thou whom the merchants of Zidon, that pass over the sea, have replenished.
Each of the 4 verses above has the same Hebrew word translated “silent” in Psalm 31:17. In each case, the one being silent still exists. He is silent because the nature of the situation present.
Jeremiah 8:14 Why do we sit still? assemble yourselves, and let us enter into the defenced cities, and let us be silent <01826> there: for the LORD our God hath put us to silence <01826>, and given us water of gall to drink, because we have sinned against the LORD.
In Jeremiah 8:14, this same Hebrew word appears twice. Those people to whom Jeremiah was talking still existed. Rather, because of their sins, “God hath put them to silence”. They existed, but they were “silent” because they had no answer to God for their sins.
God had not annihilated them. Rather, the people were guilty before God. They had no answer for their sins. In that way, there were “silent”.
Likewise, the unsaved will be “silent in hell” not because they do not exist. Rather, like the people in Jeremiah 8:14, they will have no answer to God for their sins.
We see two more verses below with this same Hebrew word. These people have been put to “silence”, but they still exist. But, because of their sins, they have no answer to God.
Lamentations 2:10 The
elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence <01826>: they have cast up dust upon their heads;
they have girded themselves with sackcloth: the virgins of
Lamentations 3:28 He sitteth alone and keepeth silence <01826>, because he hath borne it upon him.
We have seen a number of verses with this same Hebrew word translated “silent” in Psalm 31:17. These verses use the word “silent” to indicate that the person involved had no answer to the situation. These verses did not teach that the person had ceased to exist.
We must always be careful in Bible study. We can read a phrase like “let them be silent in the grave” and quickly conclude that the verse is teaching annihilation.
However, a careful examination of Psalm 31:17 shows that it is not teaching annihilation. Instead, it can mean that unsaved man in hell will have no answer for his sins before a Holy God.