The word “hell” in the Bible is translated from four words: Sheol, Hades, Gehenna and Geber. “Sheol” (Strong’s H7585) means grave, hell, the abyss. “Hades” (Strong’s G86) references the underground, the world of the dead, grave, death. “Gehenna” (Strong’s G1067) is the place where garbage was burned outside of Jerusalem and means total destruction; while "Geber" is a grave or tomb. This brief analysis of the words reveals that hell does not mean anything other than the grave, condition of death, where all people wait in unconsciousness until the resurrection. 

The death sentence (and the grave) is the result of Adam’s sin. After Adam sinned, God told him, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:19 (NIV). God never said Adam would be eternally tormented if he sinned. Adam would return to dust or go into the grave. All mankind inherited sin and death from Adam. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,” Romans 5:12. Will sinners go to a place of eternal torment? No, because no such place exists. Will they, therefore, go to the Biblical hell, which means to the grave, the condition of death? Yes.

Where was Lazarus?

Before and after the sacrifice of our Savior, every dying person sleeps in death awaiting the resurrection. A characteristic example of the “sleep of death” is Lazarus, a friend of Jesus. “He (Jesus) saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.” (John 11:11, 14-15).

No one went to heaven before Jesus. Consider King David, who was “a man of God” (Nehemiah 12:24). Where did he go at death?  Acts 2:29, 34, “Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day…For David is not ascended into the heavens.” David was asleep in the condition of death. “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward… there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave (sheol), whither thou goest.” Ecclesiastes 9:5,10. Where are the saints of the Old Testament now? In the grave awaiting their blessed resurrection.