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Mark 9:45 NIV

And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.

Berean Literal Bible

And if your foot should cause you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than having the two feet, to be cast into Gehenna.

Matthew 11:23 New International Version

And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.

Is hell/Gehenna the same as Hades?

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This question is complicated by the fact that many Bible versions translate both Gehenna and Hades as the English word "Hell".

Online Etymology Dictionary says this of the original derivation of the word "hell":

Literally "concealed place" (compare Old Norse hellir "cave, cavern"), from PIE root *kel- (1) "to cover, conceal, save."

Storing potatoes in a cellar over winter used to be known as "helling potatoes".

But today we popularly associate that word with a supernatural world, popularized by Dante's Divine Comedy. This idea of a place where unsaved immortal souls are tortured forever and ever is a central doctrine of both Roman Catholicism and many Protestant denominations.

But Biblically, there is very little support for such a concept. And the underlying idea behind it fundamentally goes against the Biblical view of God as being loving and forgiving.

In order to understand the difference between Gehenna and Hades, we must avoid the word "Hell" and even more importantly avoid letting any thoughts about the popular view of Hell enter into the analysis.


The Hebrew scriptures have two words with similar meanings:

  • "qeber" refers to a tomb, sepulchre, burying place, grave site, memorial, etc. It is the physical place or evidence of burial that living people can see and visit.
  • "sheol" is the hidden place where a body actually is. It can't be seen without exhumation, etc.

Neither word necessarily has any supernatural meaning.

Similarly, the Greek scriptures have two words with similar meanings:

  • "Hades" (ᾅδης) is the same as "sheol". It is simply the grave where bodies are buried and decompose.
  • "Gehenna" (γέεννα) refers to a garbage dump where trash and unwanted bodies are burned to ashes.

"Hades" signifies physical death, awaiting resurrection. "Gehenna" signifies total destruction and nothingness. Neither of them imply conscious awareness or being tortured for ever, as popularized by Dante.


Throughout the Greek scriptures, "Hades" simply refers to the physical grave where a body is buried. It has no supernatural meaning of itself, but is sometimes used to symbolize unconscious dead people awaiting resurrection.

"Gehenna" is used more metaphorically, to indicate total and permanent destruction.

Many scriptures, especially the book of Revelation, talk of both concepts: those that "sleep" in Hades and will one day be resurrected; and those that will be burned to ashes.

Eventually all humanity will be resurrected (in one of three general resurrections). Those that are saved will be given immortality, while those that choose to remain incorrigible will be destroyed.

The concept of an "immortal soul" appears nowhere in the Bible. In fact, quite the opposite. As Ezekiel 18:20 says: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die.".

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    You have to be careful interpreting "soul" in the old testament, which just means "life", as "soul" to the modern reader. Hence Ezekiel 18.20 is better translated as "The one who sins will die." (see NASB). In general your interpretation, while not completely idiosyncratic, is certainly a minority view.
    – Robert
    Feb 3 at 4:21
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    @Robert Whether it is a minority view or not has nothing to do with it being valid or invalid. If it is from the scripture without reading in that which is not there then it has merit. +1
    – steveowen
    Feb 3 at 4:24
  • Excellent answer - based irrefutably in Scripture.
    – Dottard
    Feb 3 at 8:00
  • @RayButterworth thank you for your thoughtful answer. Is Gehenna the same as the lake of fire in Revelation?
    – Tony Chan
    Feb 3 at 15:05
  • @TonyChan, Gehenna is symbolic of the lake of fire. Gehenna, "Valley of Hinnom", is a real place, near Jerusalem. Anciently it was a site of child-sacrifice by fire (e.g. Jeremiah 7:31), and later a site where Roman soldiers cremated their dead. It's also traditionally believed to have been the location of a burning rubbish heap. People of Jesus's time would have thought of it as a place where things are totally destroyed. Feb 3 at 16:11

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