Section 9B .. The Future / Hell Part One

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

Carol Brooks

001orange  Introduction and Index To All Chapters


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


The Inexplicable 'Translation' of Proper Names

Roots of The Word "Hell"

Inconsistencies In Translation (OT)

Sheol Cannot Be "Hell" Because.

Inconsistencies In Translation (NT)

Are People Tormented in Sheol?


To begin with we should make sure we understand that...

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. It may have been called Sheol because the place is never full - never satisfied. (See Proverbs 30:15-16)

Hades: In Greek mythology Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades 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 why the New Testament writers used 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 loosely 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)

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 (below)

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 however that some newer translations do a little better, leaving both Sheol and Hades untranslated. However, even they usually substitute 'hell' for Gehenna. (See Chapter 3)

Let me reiterate.

We have decided that, in most cases where they occur, four proper names from two different languages mean the place of unending punishment for the unsaved. Accordingly, we translated them as hell ignoring how the Bible describes those places, what some figures of the Old Testament said about them, and how they were used.

Replacing a proper name with what you think it must signify amounts to a commentary - human opinion masquerading as a 'translation.

 And, as a reminder - it is ONLY the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts that were inspired and inerrant - The same cannot be said of the hundred of 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 examine and understand.

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

Regarding Acts 2:27  "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell" Albert Barnes, another Bible commentator, wrote (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.

The reason can only be that the translators chose the English word that they thought best fit the text - especially when the word hell would have been inappropriate, even absurd. Had they left Sheol untranslated as they should have the problem would never have existed. In fact, they created even more confusion there being a huge difference between a pit which is a hole in the ground and the traditional concept of hell.

And here is a perfect example...

When a large group of rebels led by Korah, Dathan, and Abiram challenged Moses' authority, the account states that the Lord caused the earth to open her mouth and swallow them and their families, which means they went down alive. Since no one is supposed to descend alive to hell and it is certain they were not buried alive 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)

The third time Sheol was rendered as pit is in the book of Job in which, in the space of four short verses, Sheol is translated first as grave, then as pit.

    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 translates Sheol into grave 25 times. For example, in the following verse Sheol could not have comfortably been translated hell because it was unlikely that hell was king Hezekiah's destination.

    The writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness: I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave (Heb. Sheol): I am deprived of the residue of my years. (Isaiah 38:9-10 KJV)

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/Hades 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)

People Expected To 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 - there is no rescue from the traditional idea of an eternal hell.

For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol (KJV - hell); 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 (KJV - grave), 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 (KJV - hell) (Psalms 86:13 NASB)

In the book of Hosea, God spoke of ransoming Israel from the power of Sheol.

    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/Hades 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, after Christ left earth 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

Inconsistencies In Translation in The New Testament
Fully cognizant of the fact that no one is supposed to escape from hell (which they believe is Hades) led to more inconsistencies in the translation - this time in the New Testament.

Every single time the word Hades appears in the New Testament, it is translated into "hell" in the KJV and left untranslated in the NIV except for 1 Corinthians 15:55   

     KJV: O death (Gr. thanatos), where is thy sting? O grave (Gr. Hades), where is thy victory?

    NIV: Where, O death (Gr. thanatos), is your victory? Where, O death (Gr. Hades), is your sting?"

The translators were apparently reluctant to use the original Greek 'Hades" or even translate it into 'hell, because they were under the impression that Hades/hell is an everlasting place of punishment which means no one could claim victory over it. The only way for them to save Paul's reputation was to, once again, take extraordinary liberties with the Greek proper name.

And that is not all. Obviously trying to avoid the impression that Jesus could have been abandoned to a fiery hell, the NIV goes one step translating Hades into "the realm of the dead" in two instances. (Emphasis Added)

    because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead (Gr. Hades), you will not let your holy one see decay. (Acts 2:27 NIV)

    Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead (Gr. Hades), nor did his body see decay. (Acts 2:31 NIV)

 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. [01]

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.

Much to the contrary....

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)

    Will Your loving kindness 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.

The whole ideas of people being tormented in Sheol stems from Jesus' parable about Lazarus who eventually reached Paradise and the rich man who wound up in agony in Hades. This parable is commonly believed to be Jesus' vivid and very graphic description of conditions in hell. Few seem to have considered the serious and insurmountable anti-Biblical difficulties that a literal interpretation of the parable raises. In any case, we don't understand any of the other parables literally so why in the world should this one be different?  See Chapter 6 for details. .


2 Peter 2:4 reads 

     For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell 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
[01] The John Ankerberg Show. What Are Sheol and Hades.

Footnote 1 - Samuel

 Samuel sounded positively peeved when, at the request of king Saul, he was summoned by the woman at Endor. 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

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