Chronologically, when was the concept of Hell first mentioned in the Bible?

Is it mentioned in the Old Testament, or is it only in the New?

Assuming a standard consensus view of when each book of the Bible was written, which book of the bible contains the oldest reference to it? Put another way, if the Bible were arranged according to date of composition, where would the first reference to Hell be?

And by Hell, I am assuming a place of eternal torment to which those who have died and are to be punished are sent. The letters "H-E-L-L" are less important than the locations Gehanna, Sheol, Hades, etc... that are used to refer to them. Any important differences should be noted here: What is the difference between 'Hell', 'Sheol', 'Hades' and 'Gehenna'? and can be referenced in the answer.

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    @CRags: There are a few words translated as "hell" in English translations of the Bible. So, the OP needs to explicitly state which one he is concerned about. Does he mean "hell" as in the grave, or "hell" as in the place of eternal punishment?
    – user900
    Jan 25 '15 at 10:40
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    @H3br3wHamm3r81 Why not both? There's only one or two others, right?
    – fгedsbend
    Jan 26 '15 at 5:57
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    @JimG. Because some questions require more research than that. I actually do Google all (yes, all) questions I ask before I ask them. If I find something relevant, then I may not ask, or I may change the question I was going to ask. This site isn't Christianity.LMGTFY. If you hover over the up- and down-vote buttons on questions, they mention "research effort." The idea is that if you ask a question, you've already done some research and not asking us to do all of it for you. Jan 26 '15 at 15:30
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a verse search question. Aug 31 '15 at 16:40
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a verse search question.
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 18 '15 at 1:57

The concept of Hell was known by the Israelites as Sheol. It is mentioned by Jacob when he is told of his son Joseph's death. He states in Genesis 37:36 that "I shall go down to my son a mourner unto Sheol.

Sheol is a Hebrew word of uncertain origin. It is a synonym of shahat which means pit or destruction and it connotes the place where those that had died were believed to be congregated. The word Sheol is believed by some to be an Assyro-Babylonian "loan word" but this has never been completely proven as true.

The question arises whether the Biblical concept is borrowed from the Assyrians or is an independent development from elements common to both and found in many primitive religions. Though most of the passages in which mention is made of Sheol or its synonyms are of exilic or post-exilic times, the latter view, according to which the Biblical concept of Sheol represents an independent evolution, is the more probable.

Most of this information was found in the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia.


If by hell, you mean the final destruction of the wicked, it is first mentioned by Enoch as described by Jude

And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. Jude 1:14 - 15

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    @C Rags: "Hell" isn't just "physical destruction." It's spiritual punishment/torment. But, then again, the OP hasn't even clarified what he means.
    – user900
    Jan 25 '15 at 11:23
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    Not true at all @Dick Harfield.
    – user900
    Jan 26 '15 at 2:58
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    Jews believe in Gehinnom, which is the equivalent of "Hell."
    – user900
    Jan 26 '15 at 3:42
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    OneFace - If that were true, Enoch would have been included in the Canon. Enoch is not considered "Biblical". Also, at a minimum, Gehenna - a fiery place of torment. There are references to this in the OT that are chronologically earlier than Enoch. However the OP makes it clear that he equates Sheol, Gehenna and Hades as hell, so the earliest reference is in Genesis for the purposes of this question. @DickHarfield - Jewish culture did have a belief in Hell during the post-exilic period when Enoch was written. During the formation of the Hebrew Canon is when hell was rejected, but this was AD. Dec 18 '15 at 3:54
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    @JamesShewey Agree. In fact I often have friendly arguments with Jews who believe that nothing has ever changed and therefore Jews never believed in hell (a place of punishment). It seems to have entered Judaism from Zoroastrianism (along with heaven) but was rejected by later Jews - in my view before the Christian Era. Before this was sheol. Gehinnom was originally a real place outside Jerusalem, and some writings might have referred to this in an allegorical sense. Dec 18 '15 at 4:47

If I can understand the question correctly, you are asking for when was the concept of hell came into being in the bible.

I would suggest it came into being after the fall of satan and his followers. Matthew 25:41 - King James Version 41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

The scripture clearly states as everlasting fire was prepared for the devil and his angels and not for humans. The scriptures also mentions that it's not God's will that his creation (humans) have everlasting life look at John 3:16

Hell is for real and it's all over the Holy Bible, The word “hell” appears 54 times in the Holy Bible.

Reality of Hell:

  • Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30, 13:28 There is darkness, weeping and gashing of teeth
  • 2 Samuel 22:6, Psalm 18:5 There are sorrows in hell
  • Job 11:8 Hell is deep
  • Psalm 86:13 Lowest hell
  • Psalm 116:3 There is pain in hell
  • James 3:6 Your tongue is set on fire in hell
  • Isaiah 33:10-17 There is a devouring fire, and everlasting burning
  • Isaiah 66:24 worms never die and fire not quenched
  • Matthew 25:41 Everlasting Fire
  • Revelation 14:9-12, 20:10 You are tormented with fire and brimstone in God’s presence
  • Revelation 21:8 It is a lake of fire and that is the second death

A flood of false doctrine has lately broken in upon us. Men are beginning to tell us “that God is too merciful to punish souls for ever...that all mankind, however wicked and ungodly...will sooner or later be saved.” We are to embrace what is called “kinder theology,” and treat hell as a pagan fable... This question lies at the very foundation of the whole Gospel. The moral attributes of God, His justice, His holiness, His purity, are all involved in it. The Scripture has spoken plainly and fully on the subject of hell... If words mean anything, there is such a place as hell. If texts are to be interpreted fairly, there are those who will be cast into it... The same Bible which teaches that God in mercy and compassion sent Christ to die for sinners, does also teach that God hates sin, and must from His very nature punish all who cleave to sin or refuse the salvation He has provided. -- J.C. Ryle (1816-1900).

If you are looking for merely the oldest chronological reference, Evangelicals in particular tend to consider Job to be the book in the Bible that refers to the oldest time period post-Genesis. (This is due to a seeming lack of reference to Torah code) Job would thus be the "oldest" reference to hell.

  • According to Strong's Concordance there are 66 references to Sheol alone - not including Gehenna and Hades. The fall of Satan is never actually recorded in the Bible. Dec 18 '15 at 3:58

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