In the Old Testament, the word hell is translated from the Hebrew word, sheol. In the King James Bible, it is translated 3 times as pit, 31 times grave, and 31 times hell. The New Testament Greek word that is often translated hell is hades and it means the same thing as sheol. The accurate translation of these two words would be either grave or oblivion. There is no indication of torture in the words at all.
When we are dead, we know nothing. Ecclesiastes 9:5, “the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing…” And Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.”
So, where did the idea of torment come from? Sometimes the Bible uses word-pictures to illustrate a concept. For example, Deuteronomy 32:22 speaks of the “fire” of God’s anger which “shall burn unto the lowest hell (sheol).” This scripture symbolizes how God’s anger would burn against Israel until they would learn the necessary lessons, and then they would again be blessed. (See Jeremiah 31:31-34.)
Zephaniah 3:8-10, “‘My (God’s) determination is to gather the nations…to pour on them my indignation, all my fierce anger. All the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the LORD, to serve Him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering.’”
This fire symbolizes the complete destruction of Earth’s evil governments and systems in preparation for Christ’s earthly kingdom. It can’t be literal fire because the earth remains and afterward mankind calls on God and worships Him!
Some scriptures in Revelation include the symbolic concepts of fire. Revelation 14:11, “And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
The Greek word for torment is touchstone. In ancient times, people would rub a gold coin against a touchstone. Different grades of gold and base metals like lead mixed in would leave different marks. Thus, purer gold could be distinguished from debased gold. The beast and its image represent themselves as holy organizations of God. These debased gold organizations will be destroyed in Armageddon. Any who worshipped these will remember the experience and be ashamed. The memory, or smoke, will serve as touchstone reminding them of the horrible results of sin. Thus, the evil deeds will be remembered forever, even though the evil itself has been destroyed.
For a complete discussion of every time hell is used in the Bible, download the free PDF: "Where Are the Dead?"