A very simple answer to your question is that all who die go to “hell,” because the word “hell” as used in the Bible means simply “the grave,” “the pit,” “nonentity.” The Bible does not teach that there is consciousness in death. Why do they go there? Because the grave (death) is “the house appointed for all living” (Job 30:23). All are by nature mortal, subject to death.
You may or may not agree. Some feel that to deny belief in literal hellfire is to contradict Jesus, who said clearly that the wicked will suffer “the damnation of hell.” But lest we misjudge Jesus’ words or anyone else’s, let us look carefully at the meanings of the words the Bible authors used.
Language is a living science, and word meanings often change with time. To properly understand Jesus or any Bible writer we must understand what were the meanings of the words at the time He used them. Consult a dictionary of theology and you will learn that “hell is the abode of evil spirits: the infernal regions, where the devil rules supreme, and whither lost or condemned souls go after death to suffer indescribable torments and eternal punishment either for wickedness inherited from the sin of Adam or for more or less serious infractions of the Divine law. This region was generally thought of as being beneath the earth in the darkness of vast underground caverns” (Encyclopedia Americana).
Dante’s ‘Inferno’ gives perhaps the most vivid depiction in literature of the place of eternal punishment for evildoers. “Hope not ever to see heaven,” Dante writes. “I come to lead you to the other shore; into the eternal darkness; into fire and into ice.” But remember, this is Dante, not Bible.
The Old Testament Scriptures, spanning some 4,000 years of Bible history, contain no reference to punishment in hell or hellfire. The word “hell” in the Old Testament is translated from the Hebrew word sheol, which has several meanings, not one of which suggests a place of torture, punishment or torment. In the Hebrew language, ‘sheol’ meant ”hades or the world of the dead (as if a subterranean retreat), including its accessories and inmates:—grave, hell, pit” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance). The word ‘sheol’ appears 65 times in the Old Testament. It is translated “hell” 31 times, “grave” 31 times, and “pit” 3 times. At the time the King James Version of the Bible was translated (in the 17th century), the Old English word “hell” meant what we would call “the pit,” or “the grave. ” Modern translators frequently recognize this fact, and use the word “grave” instead of “hell.” For example:
The KJV (of Psalm 9:17 reads, “The wicked shall be turned into hell [sheol]”; whereas the New Living Translation reads- “The wicked will go down to the grave.”
Psalm 18:5 (KJV) reads: “The sorrows of hell [sheol] compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me”; whereas the NIV translates: “The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.”; The NASB leaves the term sheol untranslated, but the rest of the verse explains the author’s meaning: “The cords of Sheol surrounded me; The snares of death confronted me. ”
(see also Psalm 16:10 KJV & NIV also Psalm 55:15 KJV & NLT also Proverbs 5:5 KJV & NLT also Isaiah 14:15 KJV & NIV)
In the New Testament, “hell” is translated from the Greek word “Hades”, which occurs 11 times, also “Gehenna,” which occurs 12 times, and once from “Tartarus.”
“Hades,” like the Hebrew “Sheol,” denotes the abode or world of the dead, the state of death, the dominion of death; literally that which is “in darkness, hidden, invisible or obscure.” Jesus used the word hades, meaning “darkness, death.” when he said: “And thou, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to hades” (Matt. 11:23). Again, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18).
“Gehenna,” the most common word translated “hell” in the New Testament, is a transliteration from Aramaic of the Hebrew “gehennom,” meaning “Valley of Hinnom.”
The Valley of Hinnom was a valley near Jerusalem used for the disposal of refuse. In the days of the kings, children were burned in this valley in sacrifice to the pagan god Molech (2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6). The area took on a sinister association and later became a dumping ground for the disposal of all kinds of refuse, along with carcasses of beasts and the unburied bodies of criminals who had been executed. Fires were kept burning to consume the refuse.
So it is not strange that “Gehenna” is used in the New Testament to symbolize death and utter destruction. People at the time would readily understand the meaning by association. In no place does “Gehenna” signify a place of continuing torment. Refuse thrown into Gehenna was not tormented or tortured endlessly but cast out or destroyed. And just as fires were kept burning continually in Gehenna; the term “fire” was used figuratively to describe the destruction of the wicked—not that they were continually tortured but that their destruction was total, final and irreversible. Knowing that the disciples were familiar with the fires of Gehenna, Jesus used that term as description for the destruction of the wicked, as in the following passages:
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. [gehenna]” (Matt. 10:28). Gehenna indicated a final, irreversible destruction. (Gehenna is also used in Matt 23:33, Matthew 23:15, Mark 9:43, Luke 12:5)
The word “Tartarus” appears only once in the Scriptures (2 Peter 2:4) and is translated “hell” in the Authorized Version. According to a footnote in the Berkeley translation, “Tartarus” was the corresponding Greek name for the Jewish Gehenna. Later Tartarus was described as the place in which “the spirits of the wicked received their due punishment,” in the “lower world.” But note that this idea had no origin in the Bible.
Other reference works also recognize that “hell” was not thought of as a place of torture. The Catholic Encyclopedia for School and Home states: “In the Old Testament the abode of the dead is called Sheol. The prophets and teachers of Israel made few formal statements about life after death, but many legends and folk tales arose about it. Sheol was not thought of as a place of punishment.” Hastings’ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics says concerning Sheol: “early Hebrew writings give no detailed picture of the state after death to correspond with the pictures of Mohammedanism, Zoroastrianism, the religion of Egypt, or medieval Christianity. Prophetic influence was against any emphasis on [a continuation of] life after death. The place of the abode of the dead was called Sheol. The origin of the word is uncertain. Another primitive quality of Sheol was its non-moral character. It was not a place of punishment or reward. There were no compartments for good and bad.”
Hell is not a place of fire or torment. All, good and bad, sleep in the grave until Jesus returns to judge and reward His servants for what they have done (Luke 14:14; 2 Cor. 5:10).