Section 9B .. The Future
The Problems With The Traditional View of Hell

003white  Index to Section 9B... The Future           >   Index to Hell     >      Hell Part I ...  Sheol and Hades


What and Where is Hell?
Part I... Sheol And Hades

Carol Brooks

001orange  Introduction and Index To All Chapters


The Inexplicable 'Translation' of Proper Names

 Sheol and Hades - The Hebrew and Greek Names Names For Exactly The Same Place

Roots of The Word "Hell"

Inconsistencies In Translation

Sheol Cannot Be "Hell" Because
Jacob Expected to Go To 'Hell'
No One Can Be Rescued From 'Hell'
No One is Consigned to Sheol Forever

Is Anyone Tormented in Sheol?


To begin with we should make sure we understand one thing...

Sheol and Hades Are The Same Place
Sheol: The Hebrew word Sheol (the region inhabited by departed spirits) occurs some sixty-five times in the Old Testament. It is derived from a verb that means, to ask, to demand, to require, to seek, and may have been called Sheol because the place is never full - never satisfied. (See Proverbs 30:15-16)

Hades: In Greek mythology, Hades, Zeus and Poseidon were brothers. Zeus ruled the sky, Poseidon the sea, and Hades the underworld - the dark regions where disembodied spirits were supposed to dwell. This is probably why the New Testament writers chose to use the Greek Hades in place of the Hebrew Sheol as Peter did in Acts 2:27.  

    For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. (Psalms 16:10)

    because you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow your Holy One to undergo decay. (Acts 2:27)

Paul did exactly the same thing when he quoted Hosea

    Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting? ... (Hosea 13:14)

    O death, where is your victory? O death (Gr. Hades), where is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55)

The Inexplicable 'Translation' of Proper Names:
Much of the confusion about hell has arisen from the fact that several separate and distinctive words (Sheol in Hebrew, and Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus in Greek), were usually translated into the single English word 'hell' commonly believed to be the place of the damned. However, what is particularly disturbing is that all four original words are proper nouns and should have been left untranslated.

Thus an English speaking person who only reads the King James Bible has absolutely no idea that the word 'hell' does not exist in the Bible . Note: some newer translations do a little better, leaving both Sheol and Hades untranslated. However, even they usually substituted 'hell' for Gehenna. (See Chapter 3)

Let me reiterate.

We have taken several different proper names from two different languages, decided that, in many instances, they have to mean hell that we associate with the place of the damned, and then translated them as such, without a single care as to what the original names meant, how they were used, and what the differences between them were. This is a commentary, not a translation and not the only time that we have been presented with opinions passed off as 'translation'. 

And, if I may remind the reader -  it is ONLY the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts that were inspired and inerrant - The same cannot be said of the thousands of copies and translations made through the ages. Therefore, if the King James or any other translation says "hell", but the original Hebrew says Sheol, it is Sheol that the original authors wrote, and it is Sheol not hell, that we have to carefully examine.

However, since 'hell' occurs so many times in our English Bibles, perhaps we should take a close look at the etymology of this English word. Did the word really mean a place of fire and brimstone, or is that concept also a recent invention?

Roots of The Word "Hell"
The English word 'hell', that conjures up such ghastly visions, was actually derived from the Old English hel, helle (Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, page 348), and probably stretches back to the Anglo-Saxon helan - to cover or hide. The word "helmet" - a covering for the head, and the word "heal" - also a form of being covered over, are both derivatives.

I also understand that people in England spoke of storing their potatoes "in hell" for the winter, which simply meant storing them in a covered hole in the ground. And, as Bible commentator Adam Clarke noted, the tiling or slating of a house was called heling in some parts of England (particularly Cornwall), as were book corers in Lancashire.

As Bible commentator Albert Barnes wrote regarding Acts 2:27- "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell". (All Emphasis added)

    eis Hadou. The word "hell," in English, now commonly denotes "the place of the future eternal punishment of the wicked." This sense it has acquired by long usage. It is a Saxon word, derived from helan, "to cover," and denotes literally "a covered or deep place" (Webster); then "the dark and dismal abode of departed spirits"; and then "the place of torment." As the word is used now by us, it by no means expresses the force of the original; and if with this idea we read a passage like the one before us, it would convey an erroneous meaning altogether, although formerly the English word perhaps expressed no more than the original.

Inconsistencies In Translation
If the translators were of the opinion that the proper name Sheol really meant 'hell' then it should never have been rendered as anything else. Yet, and this should give the serious Bible student pause for thought, the KJV only uses 'hell' in place of Sheol 31 times. It translates Sheol into pit 3 times, and into grave 25 times.

This I do not understand. There is a huge difference between the idea of a hole in the ground and the traditional concept of hell. The only explanation is that they chose the English word that best fit their interpretation of the text.

For example, Sheol was rendered pit in connection with Korah, Dathan, and Abiram's rebellion. The earth opened her mouth and swallowed them and their fellow rebels, which means they went down alive. Since no one is supposed to go down alive to Sheol and it is certain they were not buried alive in a grave, the translators probably scratched their heads and came up with 'pit.

    But if the Lord make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit (Heb. Sheol); then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the Lord. And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them: And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit (Heb. Sheol), and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation. (Numbers 16:30-33 KJV)

However, in the Old Testament, Sheol is always spoken of as being below where we are. For example as Jacob said

    Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, "Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son." So his father wept for him. (Genesis 37:35 NASB)

Also note the story of Saul and the spirit of Samuel. When Saul saw the host of the Philistines gathered for war, he was very afraid, and enquired of the Lord. However, since Saul had already fallen out of favour, the Lord did not answer him. Saul then turned to the witch of Endor and told her that he wished to consult with a spirit. Not just any spirit, but the spirit of Samuel the prophet. Note how often the words "bring up", or "come up" are used in the account.

    Then Saul disguised himself by putting on other clothes, and went, he and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night; and he said, "Conjure up for me, please, and bring up for me whom I shall name to you." ... Then the woman said, "Whom shall I bring up for you?" And he said, "Bring up Samuel for me." .... The king said to her, "Do not be afraid; but what do you see?" And the woman said to Saul, "I see a divine being coming up out of the earth." ... Then Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?"..." (1 Samuel 28:8, 11, 13, 15 NASB)

Also see Footnote I - Samuel and the medium at Endor at the end of the page

Note the third time Sheol was rendered as pit is in the book of Job where, in the space of four short verses, Sheol is translated first as grave, then as pit. The reasoning behind using two different English words is well beyond me..

    If I wait, the grave (Heb. Sheol) is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness. I have said to corruption, Thou art my father: to the worm, Thou art my mother, and my sister. And where is now my hope? as for my hope, who shall see it? They shall go down to the bars of the pit (Heb. Sheol), when our rest together is in the dust. (Job 17:13-16 KJV)

The KJV renders Sheol as grave 25 times. For example,

     I will ransom them from the power of the grave (Heb. Sheol); I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave (Heb. Sheol), I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.  (Hosea 13:14 KJV)

However, if the Hebrew speaking authors of the Old Testament meant a literal grave, it is more than likely that they would have used the common Hebrew qbar

    I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a burying place (Heb. qbar) with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight. (Genesis 23:4 KJV)

    And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave (Heb. qebrh): that is the pillar of Rachel's grave (Heb. qebrh) unto this day.  (Genesis 35:20 KJV)

The fact that they deliberately chose to use Sheol indicates that they were speaking of something more than a literal grave or burying place. The difference being that a grave is a particularly shaped hole dug for the specific purpose of burying a body, whereas Sheol was (and is) a holding place for the spirits of the dead.

Sheol Cannot Be "Hell" Because

Jacob Expected to Go To 'Hell'
There are only seven references to Sheol in the Pentateuch - the first four attributed to the patriarch Jacob. Unless we think it possible that Jacob believed he was going to a place of fire and brimstone, we have to accept that Sheol/Hades bears no resemblance to the popular concept of hell.

    So Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, "Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son." So his father wept for him. (Genesis 37:34-35 NASB)

    Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, "You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my care, and I will return him to you." But Jacob said, "My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow." (Genesis 42:37-38 NASB)

No One Can Be Rescued From 'Hell'
A careful reading of some of the Psalms shows that the psalmist was very convinced that he would be rescued from Sheol. Although the first quote below is a prophecy concerning our Lord's three days in the tomb, it is unlikely that David was aware of that, but was writing about his own salvation from Sheol.

    For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. (Psalms 16:10 NASB)

    But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, For He will receive me. Selah. (Psalms 49:15 NASB)

    For Your loving kindness toward me is great, and You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol. (Psalms 86:13 NASB)

    In the book of Hosea, God spoke of ransoming Israel from the power of Sheol. However, there is no rescue from the traditional idea of an eternal hell.

    Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion will be hidden from My sight. (Hosea 13:14 NASB)

No One is Consigned to Sheol Forever.
However perhaps the most telling of all passages is 2 Peter 2:9, where the apostle very clearly says that the unrighteous are being held until the day of judgment. 

    then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, (2 Peter 2:9 NASB)

In other words, Sheol denotes the abode of the dead prior to the judgment - a temporary holding place as it were. However, since Christ Sheol/Hades only holds the spirits of the unrighteous who there await the White Throne Judgment. When a disciple of Christ dies their spirit departs their body and go to be with Christ where they await the resurrection of their bodies. See The Intermediate State

 Which bring us to the mental and physical condition of the people in Sheol

Is Anyone Tormented in Sheol?
Erwin W. Lutzer Pastor Emeritus of The Moody Church made the following comment on the John Ankerberg Show..

    Sheol is always referred to as "a shadowy place" of departed spirits. There are several things that we know about it. In it, people appear to be fully conscious. They go down into Sheol. The Scripture talks about "Sheol awaiting the dead." It speaks about those who descend into Sheol, into the "gloomy, shadowy place" where they are being "tormented." It seems to be a place of isolation. In fact, in the Old Testament what you find, though, is that there seems to be an indication that Sheol has two compartments. Why do I say that? Because the righteous, they delight to go into the grave, into Sheol. [03]

Pastor Lutzer has come to the conclusion that because some people are 'tormented in Sheol and others seem to be fine about going there, Sheol must have two compartments. The problem being that not a single verse in the Old Testament says, or even implies that anyone is tormented in Sheol.

In all likelihood, this idea stems from Jesus' parable about Lazarus who eventually reached Paradise and the rich man who wound up in agony in Hades commonly believed to be Jesus' vivid and very graphic description of conditions in hell.. However, if this is true we are faced with numerous serious difficulties. See Chapter 6 for details.

How The Old Testament Describes Sheol
Sheol is presented in the Old Testament- not as a place of fire, brimstone, and torment but as place of darkness, silence, and forgetfulness, where there is no work, knowledge or wisdom.

    "Before I go --and I shall not return-- To the land of darkness and deep shadow, The land of utter gloom as darkness itself, Of deep shadow without order, and which shines as the darkness." (Job 10:21-22 NASB)

    For there is no mention of You in death; In Sheol who will give You thanks? (Psalms 6:5 NASB)

    Will Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave, Your faithfulness in Abaddon? Will Your wonders be made known in the darkness? And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? (Psalms 88:11-12 NASB)

    The dead do not praise the Lord, Nor do any who go down into silence; (Psalms 115:17 NASB)

    His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; In that very day his thoughts perish. (Psalms 146:4 NASB)

Note: We cannot use Jonah as an example of people being afflicted in Sheol as he said he was. Jonah's experience was a type (See Typology) of the death and resurrection of Christ. Besides which, the prophet was alive in the belly of a whale, not dead in Sheol. Jonah's words may simply have been the extreme distress of a man who was not only in dire straits physically, but in mental anguish as well considering he had tried to run away from the task given him by the Lord.

Also Note: The KJV version of 2 Samuel 22:6 has David saying "The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me".  However the word rendered "sorrows" actually means a cord.


2 Peter 2:4 reads 

     For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell (Gk. tartarosas) and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; (2 Peter 2:4 NASB) 

This is pretty much what the KJV, the ESV and most other Bible versions say. However, it is not what the Greek says.

Literal translations tell us that the angels were cast down to Tartarus. This phrase translated from a single word - tartarosas.

    For if God spares not sinning messengers, but thrusting them into the gloomy caverns of Tartarus, gives them up to be kept for chastening judging;" (2 Peter 2:4 CLV)

    For if God did not spare the angels having sinned, but having cast them down to Tartarus, in chains of gloomy darkness, delivered them, being kept for judgment; (Berean Literal Bible)

Once again, we have taken a proper name and interpreted it according to preconceived bias. In Greek mythology Tartarus is both a deity and a region of the underworld - a subterranean abyss lower than Hades where the Titans were confined. Note that the Greek Titan is linguistically linked to the Chaldean Sheitan, the Hebrew Satan and the Hindi Shaitan, all of which mean the devil.

Also Note that there is no mention of any human going to Tartarus which indicates that it is a different place from Sheol/Hades and possibly reserved for the fallen angels, kept there only until the judgment.

So, even if convinced that Sheol and Hades do not denote a place of torment in the future world, most traditionalists claim that Gehenna does .

Continue on To PART II - The Curious Silence of The Old Testament Regarding 'Hell' Warrants the Question -  What Kind Of Lawgiver Keeps The Worst Penalty A Secret? The Old Testament does not record a single instance of God ever warning anyone that the punishment for sin was hell in the afterlife. Much to the contrary, every one of His warnings concerned punishment in this life. Additionally, the author of Hebrews said every transgression received "just recompense" (Hebrews 2:2). If transgressors has already received 'just' recompense then how can any more punishment be due them? HERE


End Notes
[03] The John Ankerberg Show. What Are Sheol and Hades.


Footnote 1 - Samuel
Also note that Samuel sounded positively peeved when he was summoned by the woman at Endor at the request of king Saul. He asked why Saul had 'disquieted' or 'troubled' him? (1 Samuel 28:15).

Christians will commonly say that Saul was not communicating with Samuel himself, but a demon disguised as Samuel. However, this is not possible. No demon would have been able to so accurately prophesy what Saul's fate would be the very next day, and tell Saul the exact reason this would happen (because he failed to obey the Lord and destroy Amalek).

Neither men nor false gods can make infallible and accurate prophecies about the future. Only a Supreme Being can consistently and precisely predict the future in detail. In the book of Isaiah, the Lord says He is the first and the last, and there is no God besides Him. He asks (Emphasis Added)

"Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; Yes, let him recount it to Me in order, From the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place. (Isaiah 44:6-7)

See God and His Bible. The Reliability of The Old Testament - Part 4 of Choose Life That You Might Live

Note: The Bible tells us that God takes a very dim view of anyone attempting to communicate with the spirits of the dead. In Saul's day, all wizards and all those who had familiar spirits had been "cut off" (1 Samuel 28:9). In fact, one of the reason given for Saul's death was he 'asked counsel of a medium' (1 Chronicles 10:13)

However, the Bible never says that it is impossible to communicate with the spirits of the dead.


The Future


"Artwork © by Duncan Long. Used with permission. All rights reserved"