What is the difference between Heaven/Paradise/Sheol

How about Hell/Hades/The Lake of Fire?

Are they synonyms, are they different places?


As Jesus hung on the cross, he famously said to one of the thieves being crucified along with him that "today you will be with me in Paradise." This establishes where Jesus was going to be after his death. But after his resurrection, when Mary Magdalene found him in the garden, he told her that he had not yet been to Heaven to present himself to the Father. (John 20:17) This establishes that Paradise is different from Heaven.

1 Peter 3: 18-19 explains that while Jesus was dead (and therefore in Paradise), he went to preach to "spirits in prison" who had been disobedient in mortality. So it would seem that after death, people's spirits are sent to an intermediary location to await the resurrection. Those who have been righteous go to paradise, and those who have been disobedient go to a "prison" whose name is not specified clearly. But these intermediary locations are not the same as Heaven and Hell, the places to which we are sent after the Judgment, which is explicitly stated to take place after the resurrection in several different scriptures.

  • Nice explanation. How about Hades/Sheol and the Lake of Fire?
    – raphink
    Aug 25 '11 at 14:10
  • @Raphink: I don't know so much about that side of things...
    – Mason Wheeler
    Aug 25 '11 at 14:32
  • 2
    Actually, it doesn't say that Jesus hasn't been to Heaven. Rather, it states that he hasn't ascended. This could mean bodily ascension after a bodily resurrection or it could mean that he hasn't been to Heaven.
    – Richard
    Aug 25 '11 at 16:50
  • 2
    Depends on where you put the comma. Adventists contend that it is said 'I promise you today, you will be with me in paradise.' Rather than 'I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise.' Greek does not use commas so we cannot examine the original text with much success to an answer.
    – fгedsbend
    Feb 19 '13 at 9:11
  • 1
    @Fredsbend: I've heard that argument, but it never made any sense to me, simply because... who says "I promise you today"? Have you ever heard anyone use that sort of phrasing, in any language? Using "today" as an adverb to modify "promise" doesn't add any meaningful information to the act; of course he's making the promise today; he's speaking right now. But using it as a modifier to "be with me" does add meaningful information: it describes when the "be with me-ing" will be taking place.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Feb 19 '13 at 14:09

γέεννα (geenna) is the greek word for hell. Scripture refers to γέεννα as the place of fire and torment where people are sentenced following judgment (Mat 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mar 9:45,47; Lk 12:5; Jas 3:6).

Revelation 19-20 refers to the lake of fire. It describes it as a place of eternal torture and torment for the beast, false prophet, devil, and anyone whose name is not in the book of life. Both hell and the lake of fire are described as a place of suffering where the condemned are sent following judgment. Most likely these two places are one in the same.

Following judgement, Revelation 20:14, says "Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire." Hades is, "thrown into the lake of fire." The writers of the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, translate the Hebrew word,"Sheol" into Hades. When the greek Hades is used in the New Testament it is not the Greek understanding, but the Hebrew understanding for Sheol that is being communicated. The clearest instance of this is found in the parable of the rich man and the poor man Lazerous (Luke 16:19-31). Sheol/Hades is described as a place separated by an impassable barrier. On one side dwell the unrighteous, which from Luke's description seems to have some amount of suffering. On the other side is the place of the righteous, also referred to as Paradise or Abraham's Bosom. Sheol/Hades is the intermediate state where souls go after death and before bodily resurrection. Ephesians 4:9 along with the Apostles Creed refer to Jesus descending to the dead following his physical death. This is referencing Sheol. 1 Peter 3:19 and 4:6 also reference Jesus preaching to the dead.

  • Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. This is good for a first answer. Here's a +1 to get you to come back and post again. Take a look around at other posts to get a feel for the site and how the community here operates. I hope to see you post again soon.
    – fгedsbend
    Sep 8 '14 at 19:42

Occurrences of ᾅδης in the New Testament Corpus

ᾅδης (Hades) appears 10 times in the New Testament,1 and the context of each occurrence indicates that it is the abode of the dead.

One particular account references the idiomatic idea of 'Abraham's bosom'2 and includes the idea of a division within Hades where some are comforted and others are tormented in fire, however it is disputed if this account was intended to be taken literally or if it is a reference to an existing Egyptian or Jewish tale.

Occurrences of ᾅδης in the Septuagint Corpus

ᾅδης (Hades) occurs 105 times in the Septuagint (LXX, including the Apocrypha).3 Listing the occurrences would be exhaustive, but much can be gleaned by noting what Hebrew words are often translated as ᾅδης in the Septuagint, as depicted in the image below:

Hebrew words translated by Hades in the Septuagint4

It is difficult to see in this image, but the same words are actually shown separately (unfortunately) when the word has a prepositional or other prefix in the Hebrew. Combining these, the Hebrew word most frequently (slightly over 56% of occurrences) translated as ᾅδης in the Septuagint is שְׁאוֹל (Sheol).

When used in a locative sense, שְׁאוֹל is best translated from the Hebrew into English as 'wasteland, void, [or] underworld.'5 שְׁאוֹל refers to the abode of the dead in Hebrew thought. It should be kept in mind, however, that ᾅδης is used to translate several other Hebrew terms other than שְׁאוֹל, and ᾅδης occurs 105 times in the LXX corpus as compared to the word שְׁאוֹל occurring only 65 times in the Hebrew Bible corpus (although the Septuagint corpus is larger than the Hebrew Bible corpus as it contains works that do not appear in the latter, not to mention textual discrepancies).

Occurrences of ᾅδης in Other Relevant Corpora

ᾅδης (Hades) initially referred to the god of the nether world, and later came to be used primarily in reference to the nether world itself in ancient Greek corpora, i.e. the place of the dead (cf. Arndt, Danker, and Bauer).6 Homer's Iliad gives numerous examples of the earliest usage to refer to Hades as a deity within Greek mythology:

We were three brothers whom Rhea bore to Saturn- Jove, myself, and Hades who rules the world below. Heaven and earth were divided into three parts, and each of us was to have an equal share. When we cast lots, it fell to me to have my dwelling in the sea for evermore; Hades took the darkness of the realms under the earth, while air and sky and clouds were the portion that fell to Jove; but earth and great Olympus are the common property of all.7

Also, since the mythological character Persephone was mentioned in the question, it may be of interest that she and Hades didn't really live 'happily ever after' in Greek mythology; he has to abduct Persephone in order to get her to come to the underworld with him (and likely raped her), which invokes a curse/famine, and the situation keeps getting worse until he is forced to return her, but not without tricking her in such a way that she must return to him annually (due to eating food from the underworld). Hardly a romantic story with a happy ending.

While some additional perspective can be gleaned from an extensive study of ᾅδης in Greek mythology, it is sufficient for the purpose of understanding its use as a metaphysical location (or construct) in first century Jewish and early Christian thought to merely understand that the term initially referred to a mythological deity and then later came to refer to the abode/kingdom under his control, and then this term was conflated with the related Hebrew idea of שְׁאוֹל in the Septuagint and New Testament corpora (much has been written elsewhere on the topic for those desiring to learn more about its earlier mythological understanding).

It should also be noted from study of the corpora that the cosmology of first century Greeks and Jews was significantly different than that of contemporary Western thought (including contemporary Christian cosmological notions of 'heaven', 'hell', and the material universe). It is therefore imperative that modern Western ideologies concerning cosmology and the afterlife not be eisegetically (and anachronistically) read back into the New Testament Greek text.8

Early Christian Interpretation of ᾅδης

It has been shown in study of the corpora that the Western notion of 'hell' is very different from the Hellenic understanding of 'Hades,' but at this point the reader may be wondering how the concepts were understood in early Christian interpretation.

Cyril of Alexandria gave a good summary of what was most likely representative of the early Christian interpretations of Hades. In his commentary on John 10:12-13, he writes:

For man, having yielded to an inclination for sin, at once wandered away from love to God. On this account he was banished from the sacred and Divine fold, I mean the precincts of Paradise; and having been weakened by this calamity, he became the prey of really bitter and implacable wolves, the devil who had beguiled him to sin, and death which had been germinated from sin. But when Christ was announced as the Good Shepherd over all, in the struggle with this pair of wild and terrible beasts, He laid down His life for us. He endured the cross for our sakes that by death He might destroy death, and was condemned for our sakes that He might deliver all men from condemnation for sin, abolishing the tyranny of sin by means of faith, and nailing to His cross the bond that was against us, as it is written. Accordingly, the father of sin used to put us in Hades like sheep, delivering us over to death as our shepherd, according to what is said in the Psalms: but the really Good Shepherd died for our sakes, that He might take us out of the dark pit of death and prepare to enfold us among the companies of heaven, and give unto us mansions above, even with the Father, instead of dens situate[d] in the depths of the abyss or the recesses of the sea. Wherefore also He somewhere says to us: Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.9

This understanding is consistent with the New Testament corpus usage (particularly elucidating the uses of ᾅδης in Revelation 20:13-14. When read in context (and in tandem with other early Christian writers), the early interpretive idea is that prior to Jesus' death and resurrection, all those who died went to Hades (although there was likely some sort of distinction between the righteous and unrighteous in this 'realm'). However, Jesus descended into Hades after his crucifixion (just like everyone else who died) and 'preached' to the souls there (clearly drawing on the language from 1 Peter 3:19); then he despoiled (from σκυλεύω) it, leading Death/Hades' captives out of Hades (Cyril has recently been falsely accused of universalism because he believed that Jesus led all of the dead out of Hades, not just the righteous ones. But Cyril believed in eternal punishment, he simply didn't link it to 'Hades.' Instead, Hades represented the power of Death, and therefore Jesus 'bound the strong man' and left no prisoners in Hades, thus establishing himself as 'Lord'/κύριος over the living and the dead). Cyril also believed that Jesus united heaven to earth (a common early view).10

Etymology of ᾅδης and the Highway to Hell

An etymological dictionary indicates that the word 'hell' has carried the connotation of being an undesirable eternal destination since at least the 14th century.

It is difficult to definitively determine how 'Hades' came to be associated with the concept 'hell.' The most common theory is that the Latin word infernum carried the idea of divine punishment and gradually came to be confused with the distinct concepts of γέεννα (Gehenna), ταρταρόω (Tartaroo/us), and ᾅδης (Hades). The King James Version of the Bible then followed suit, having long forgotten the distinction between the terms, and translated all of them as 'hell.'

Dr. Clark Carlton, in his talk entitled "Hell: A Modest Proposal", espouses his belief that:

...by the time the Scriptures came to be translated into the vernacular in the medieval west, the Latin word for Hades, Infernus (or sometimes Inferus) and the transliterated Aramaic word Gehenna had become completely confused, so that the terms Infernus and Gehenna were used interchangeably. Initially, Latin authors distinguished between Infernus and Gehenna just as the Latin translations of the Bible had done. Augustine, for one, was very careful in his use of these words. And yet, early on, there was a tendency to import the notion of punishment into the concept of Infernus. We see this already in Tertullian, and Cyprian of Carthage actually used the word Gehenna to refer to the abode of the dead—even before the Last Judgment. Gregory the Great spoke of the Rich Man being in Gehenna even though the Vulgate, following the original Greek, uses the word Infernus. By the time we get to the Venerable Bede, the terms are used interchangeably—any sense that they refer to different realities has been lost.

This explains why all English translations of the Scripture prior to the 20th century, from the very earliest translations of the Psalter into middle English, to the translations by Wycliffe, and, of course, the KJV and the Book of Common Prayer, all of them translate both Hades and Gehenna using the single word Hell. To the translators, Hades and Gehenna meant the same thing, so they used the most obvious word in their own tongue to render both terms. The problem is that the concept of Hell as the state of death, or, more literally, the abode of the dead, has been completely lost.

What about γέεννα?

Gehenna (γέεννα) is just a transliteration of the Hebrew for "Valley of Hinnom" (גֵּי הִנֹּם) and the Aramaic for the same (גֵיהִנָּם / ܓܗܢܐ). The NET translators point out,

This was the valley along the south side of Jerusalem. In OT times it was used for human sacrifices to the pagan god Molech (cf. Jer 7:31; 19:5–6; 32:35), and it came to be used as a place where human excrement and rubbish were disposed of and burned. In the intertestamental period, it came to be used symbolically as the place of divine punishment (cf. 1 En. 27:2, 90:26; 4 Ezra 7:36).

'Valley of Hinnom' in the Hebrew Bible

The Valley of Hinnom, more commonly the "Valley of the Son(s) of Hinnom," is located just outside Jerusalem. It shows up in the Tanakh as the place where followers of pagan Gods sacrificed their children by fire ("passed their sons through fire"). For instance, 2 Chronicles 28:3 (NET):

[Ahaz] offered sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and passed his sons through the fire, a horrible sin practiced by the nations whom the Lord drove out before the Israelites.

It appears again in 2 Chronicles 33 (vv. 1-6, NET):

Manasseh ... set up altars for the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the stars in the sky and worshiped them.... He passed his sons through the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and practiced divination, omen reading, and sorcery. He set up a ritual pit to conjure up underworld spirits and appointed magicians to supervise it. He did a great amount of evil in the sight of the Lord and angered him.

It appears elsewhere as well (2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 7:31; 19:2-6 and some other places). In Jeremiah 19:4-6, a possible prophecy is made:

Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind—therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, "'Gehenna' therefore soon became a figurative equivalent for 'hell.'" The word also shows up frequently in the Aramaic Targums in reference to the fate of the wicked in the afterlife (source).

γέεννα in the New Testament

The Christian New Testament scriptures contain 12 references to γέεννα (Matthew 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6). Of these, 11 are spoken directly by Jesus Christ with an obvious emphasis on final punishment.

γέεννα Translation Proposal

My personal preference is just to transliterate the word into English as "Gehenna." However, I think it may be appropriate to translate this word as "hell" (note that I do not believe "Hades"/"Sheol" should be translated as "hell"). Gehenna would be the one term that truly captures what comes to mind when English speakers use the term "hell" (torment after death). Even so, to avoid confusion with modern Western notions of 'hell' it may be best to transliterate this also.

τὴν λίμνην τοῦ πυρός (Lake of Fire)

Then you have τὴν λίμνην τοῦ πυρός, the lake of fire, which is referred to in Revelation 20:14 as ὁ θάνατος ὁ δεύτερός (the second death). Death and Hades (ὁ θάνατος καὶ ὁ ᾅδης) are thrown into (ἐβλήθησαν εἰς) τὴν λίμνην τοῦ πυρός. I've previously established that Hades (ᾅδης) should not be translated as 'hell', and I've shown how Gehenna (γέεννα) is distinct from Hades (although it may have only been used as a metaphor), so this lake of fire is a reference to some sort of final destruction.

As a side note, you may also want to check out Tartarus, another realm mentioned in 2 Peter (also an allusion to Greek mythology) which may be reserved only for fallen angels.

1 cf. Matthew 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14.

2 The Greek text reads, "ἐν τοῖς κόλποις αὐτοῦ" (the referent of αὐτοῦ being Ἀβραὰμ in this clause).

3 Based on a search conducted on February 4, 2014 using Logos Bible Software 5.2 SR-4 of Septuaginta: With Morphology. Electronic ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1979). Other Septuagint texts were also used, resulting in little notable variation of relevance to this question (108 in Swete's LXX compared to 105 occurrences cited).

4 Analysis performed using Logos Bible Software 5.2 SR-4.

5 Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999), 1369.

6 "Orig. proper noun, god of the nether world, ‘Hades’, then the nether world, Hades as place of the dead, Ac 2:27, 31 (Ps 15:10; Eccl 9:10; PGM 1, 179; 16, 8; Philo, Mos. 1, 195; Jos., Bell. 1, 596, Ant. 6, 332). Of Jonah’s fish ἐκ τοῦ κατωτάτου ᾅδου. In the depths, contrasted w. heaven ἕως (τοῦ) ᾅδου Mt 11:23; Lk 10:15 (PsSol 15:10; cp.; Is 14:11, 15); ἐν τῷ ᾅδῃ 16:23; ἐν Ἅιδου ApcPt Rainer. Accessible by gates (but the pl. is also used [e.g. Hom., X., Ael. Aristid. 47, 20 K.=23 p. 450 D.] when only one gate is meant), hence πύλαι ᾅδου (Il. 5, 646; Is 38:10; Wsd 16:13; 3 Macc 5:51; PsSol 16:2.—Lucian, Menipp. 6 the magicians can open τοῦ Ἅιδου τὰς πύλας and conduct people in and out safely) Mt 16:18 (s. on πέτρα 1b and πύλη a); locked ἔχω τὰς κλεῖς τοῦ θανάτου καὶ τοῦ ᾅδου Rv 1:18 (the genitives are either obj. [Ps.-Apollod. 3, 12, 6, 10 Aeacus, the son of Zeus holds the κλεῖς τοῦ Ἅιδου; SEG VIII, 574, 3 (III A.D.) τῷ τὰς κλεῖδας ἔχοντι τῶν καθʼ Ἅιδου (restored)] or possess.; in the latter case death and Hades are personif.; s. 2). ὠδῖνες τοῦ ᾅδου (Ps 17:6) Pol 1:2; Ac 2:24 v.l. (for θανάτου). εἰς ᾅδου (sc. δόμους B-D-F §162, 8; Hom. et al.; Bar 3:11, 19; Tob 3:10; En 102:5; 103:7; Ar. 11, 3) Ac 2:31 v.l.; 1 Cl 4:12; 51:4 (Just., D. 99, 3 ἐν ᾅδου μένειν; Mel., Fgm. 8b, 44 τοῖς ἐν ᾅδου νεκροῖς; Iambl., Vi. Pyth. 30, 179 ἐν ᾅδου κεῖσθαι τὴν κρίσιν; Hierocles 14, 451 τὰ ἐν ᾅδου κολαστήρια; Simplicius in Epict. p. 108, 14 punishments for sinners ἐν ᾅδου)."

William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 19.

7 Homer, trans. Samuel Butler, Iliad, Book 15 (XV), retrieved from the Internet Classics Archive (MIT).

8 Some translators transliterate rather than translate this word, rendering it Hades, thereby reflecting the distinction from the two other Greek words that have been translated hell—γέεννα (a dump that was kept burning outside the city) and ταρταρόω (occurring only in 2 Peter 2:4 within the New Testament corpus).

9 Cyril of Alexandria, trans. P.E. Pusey and T. Randell, Commentary on John, Book 6, Vol. 2 (London: Walter Smith, 1885), 76-77. Retrieved from Roger Pearse, "Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts" at http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/cyril_on_john_06_book6.htm#p76, emphasis mine.

10 cf. Daniel A. Keating, "Christ's despoiling of Hades: according to Cyril of Alexandria." St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 55, no. 3, 2011: 253-269. Available from SVS Press.


Hades in the New testament is the same as Sheol in the Old Testament which is translated as the place of the dead. paradise is simply the place of the righteous after dead until the appearing of Christ in the air where the elect will meet him or be caught up to him. hell however is de place of the wicked after death. it must be noted however that the word hell as used in de new testament is a translation of the Hebrew word Gehenna which was a place were refuse is burnt and for that matter fire continually burns over there. lake of fire is the place of the devil and hid cohorts and the wicked after the great judgement.

  • Welcome to the site! Don't take this next as a commentary on the quality of your post, it's just standard to point new visitors at these posts: As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page, How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? Oct 27 '13 at 16:15
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    While I think your claims have a lot of merit, making a claim that "Sheol" is the same as "Hades" is part of the work of theology. Sourcing a claim here would help this answer tremendously Oct 28 '13 at 13:34

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