Going to Hell: Sheol and Hades
The concepts of heaven and hell that most people believe is taught by the Bible, is largely influenced by no more than a story: Dante's "Divine Comedy".
The book describes a journey through hell, purgatory and heaven, which captured the imagination of readers at the time. Unusually at the time, the Divine Comedy rather than being published in Latin, was made available in the more widely spoken Italian and ultimately became a literary classic.
In particular it moulded the beliefs of influential artists such as Michaelangelo who graphically represented hell in the lower section of his painting of "The Last Judgement" on the wall of the Sistene Chapel. The concepts have maintained the same popularity ever since, despite being based more on Dante's imagination than scripture.
Hell Translated from Hades and Sheol
That said, particularly in the authorised or King James Version of the Bible, there are indeed numerous apparent references to "hell", as we'll see later. However, the majority of the times when the subject is referred to, it is translated from "hades" in the original Greek in the apostolic scriptures (New Testament) and "sheol" in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).
It's fair to say though, that the Greek word "hades" brings significant cultural baggage from pagan Greek mythology with it, and specifically the same "underworld for the dead" concept that had influenced Dante. Subsequent quotations from the hebrew scriptures where "sheol" was originally used, shows that when "hades" is used in apostolic scriptures it means the same thing; either "grave" or "pit" or is a euphemism for death itself.
5 (i) Her feet go down to death; (ii) her steps take hold on hell.KJV
This simple repetition of an equivalent phrase is a common style of Hebrew grammatical emphasis. It shows an obvious equivalence between the reference to death in the first half of the sentence (i) and hell (sheol) in the second half (ii). The same pattern is observable in many other scriptures:
15 Because ye have said, (i) We have made a covenant with death, and (ii) with hell (sheol) are we at agreement;... KJV
18 And (i) your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and (ii) your agreement with hell (sheol) shall not stand; ... KJV
2 Samuel 22:6
6 (i) The sorrows of hell (sheol) compassed me about; (ii) the snares of death prevented me; KJV
3 (i) The sorrows of death compassed me, and (ii) the pains of hell (sheol) gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. KJV
5 (i) The sorrows of hell (sheol) compassed me about: (ii) the snares of death prevented me. KJV
Here we see more scriptural examples of the equivalence between the "sorrows"/"pains" of sheol and the "snares"/"sorrows" of death. This therefore indicates an equivalence between "sheol" and "death", but noticeably absolutely no suggestion of some form of everlasting torment.
Here's another example:
6 (i) Hell (sheol) is naked before him, and (ii) destruction hath no covering.
Here we see the same grammatical pattern emphasising an equivalence between "sheol" and destruction (not eternal torment). Exactly the same thing is found in:
10 For (i) thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (sheol); neither (ii) wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. KJV
Interesstingly the word translated "corruption" is mostly translated "pit" in scripture; emphasising the equivalence of "sheol" and "pit".
Furthermore this scripture is actually a prophecy about the Messiah, as the apostle Peter subsequently explained (on the Feast of Pentecost) in Acts 2:31, which we'll discuss further in a few moments.
27 (i) Her house is the way to hell (sheol), (ii) going down to the chambers of death. KJV
So the "way to sheol" is simply going down to the chambers of death (graves)
15 Yet thou shalt be brought (i) down to hell, (ii) to the sides of the pit. KJV
Again we seen the same grammatical style emphasising that "sheol" is equivalent to a pit.
The Prophet Jonah in "Hell" for Three Days and Three Nights
Interestingly, although he was only in the stomach of the great fish, Jonah referred to the place of his internment for three days and three nights as "sheol" which the KJV translates as hell.
2 And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell (sheol) cried I, and thou heardest my voice. KJV
Christ in Hell for Three Days and Three Nights
We mentioned above that one of the most interesting references to hell in the Greek scriptures was when Peter explained that even Christ went to "hades". He mentions this twice when he quotes Psalms 16:10, firstly in Acts 2:27 and then a few verses later, by way of explanation:
31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that (i) his soul was not left in hell (hades), (ii) neither his flesh did see corruption. KJV
So are we to believe that the sinless Christ went to some sort of firey Greek mythological underworld for the dead or a firey torment for three days and three nights?
He was interred in the garden tomb though.
Sheol or Hades Don't Mean Hell, They're Just Synonyms for Death & Burial
Jonah specifically referred to his being interred in the great fish as being shut away in "sheol" for three days and three nights, which arguably was why Messiah referred to it as a direct prophesy about his own burial.
39 But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:
40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
So it would seem then that Messiah's own interpretation of Jonah's use of the words "sheol" and "hades" was simply the "heart of the earth".
Acts 2:31 then emphasises that, in the same way that the Hebrew word "sheol" is synonomous with, death, the grave, the pit, the Greek word "hades" means the same thing. As Peter showed, in this instance "hades" is used as a direct translation of the hebrew word "sheol" in the hebrew text from which he was quoting (Psalms 16:10).
The same happens in Luke 10:15
15 And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be thrust down to Hades.
Matthew records the same expression in 11:23.
23 And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
Here Christ was borrowing an expression from Isaiah.
11 Your pomp is brought down to Sheol,
15 Yet you shall be (i) brought down to Sheol,
(ii) To the lowest depths of the Pit.
...again emphasising the equivalence of "hades","sheol" and "the pit".
Hell Cast Into the Lake of Fire ?
Furthermore if "hades" meant some form of everlasting firey torement, then why does Revelation 20 speak of it being cast into "the lake of fire"?
14 And death and hell (hades) were cast into the lake of fire... KJV
How does "hell" get cast into...something which looks even more like "hell" ?
Notice again the equivalence of death and "the grave" in this verse.
Sheol The Hebrew Word for "Hell" in the Jewish Encylopedia
Given that "hades" is the Greek equivalent of "sheol" let's see what the Jewish Encyclopedia says about the word "sheol":
It connotes the place where those that had died were believed to be congregated. Jacob, refusing to be comforted at the supposed death of Joseph, exclaims: "I shall go down to my son a mourner unto Sheol" (Genesis 37:36, Hebrew compare with Genesis 42:38; 44:29, 31). Sheol is underneath the earth (Isaiah 7:11, 57:9; Ezekiel 31:14; Psalms 86:13; Ecclesisticus. [Sirach] 51:6; compare with Enoch 17:6, "toward the setting of the sun"); hence it is designated as (Deuteronomy 32:22; Psalms 86:13) or (Psalms 88:7; Lamentations 3:55; Ezekiel 26:20, 32:24). It is very deep (Proverbs 19:18; Isaiah 57:9); and it marks the point at the greatest possible distance from heaven (Job 11:8; Amos 9:2; Psalms 139:8). The dead descend or are made to go down into it; the revived ascend or are brought and lifted up from it (I Samuel 2:6; Job 7:9; Psalms 30:4; Isaiah 14:11,15).
Sometimes the living are hurled into Sheol before they would naturally have been claimed by it (Proverbs 1:12; Numbers 16:33; Psalms 55:16, 63:10), in which cases the earth is described as "opening her mouth" (Numbers 16:30). Sheol is spoken of as a land (Job 10:21, 22); but ordinarily it is a place with gates (ib. 17:16, 38:17; Isaiah 38:10; Psalms 9:14), and seems to have been viewed as divided into compartments (Proverbs 7:27), with "farthest corners" (Isaiah 14:15; Ezekiel 32:23, Hebrew R. V. "uttermost parts of the pit"), one beneath the other (see Jewish Encyc. v. 217, s. v. Eschatology). Here the dead meet (Ezekiel 32, Isaiah 14, Job 30:23) without distinction of rank or condition—the rich and the poor, the pious and the wicked, the old and the young, the master and the slave—if the description in Job 3 refers, as most likely it does, to Sheol. The dead continue after a fashion their earthly life. Jacob would mourn there (Genesis 37:35, 42:38); David abides there in peace (I Kings 2:6); the warriors have their weapons with them (Ezekiel 32:27), yet they are mere shadows ("rephaim"; Isaiah 14:9, 26:14; Psalms 88:5, A. V. "a man that hath no strength"). The dead merely exist without knowledge or feeling (Job 14:13; Ecclesiastes 9:5). Silence reigns supreme; and oblivion is the lot of them that enter therein (Psalms 88:13, 94:17; Ecclesiastes 9:10). Hence it is known also as "Dumah," the abode of silence (Psalms 6:6, 30:10, 94:17, 115:17); and there God is not praised (ib. 115:17; Isaiah 38:15). Still, on certain extraordinary occasions the dwellers in Sheol are credited with the gift of making knowntheir feelings of rejoicing at the downfall of the enemy (Isaiah 14:9, 10). Sleep is their usual lot (Jeremiah 51:39; Isaiah 26:14; Job 14: 12). Sheol is a horrible, dreary, dark, disorderly land (Job 10:21, 22); yet it is the appointed house for all the living (ib. 30:23). Return from Sheol is not expected (II Sam. 12:23; Job 7:9,10; 10:21; 14:7 et seq.; 16:22; Ecclesiasticus. [Sirach] 38:21); it is described as man's eternal house (Ecclesiastes 7:5). It is "dust" (Psalms 30:10; hence in the Shemoneh 'Esreh, in benediction No. ii., the dead are described as "sleepers in the dust").
Although the Jewish Encyclopedia says "the dead continue after a fashion their earthly life"; take a closer look at the references. Arguably much of the language that this refers to is figurative. The poetic style in many of the Hebrew references to "sheol" indicate very clearly that it simply means death, or euphamisms for it; specifically, grave or pit. So, taking one of the examples used by the Jewish Encyclopedia:
...Jacob, refusing to be comforted at the supposed death of Joseph, exclaims: "I shall go down to my son a mourner unto Sheol" (Genesis 37:36)
So we would say: was Jacob considering digging himself into "hell" or was he simply wanting to visit his son's place of burial ?
Helpfully the encyclopedia then suggests we compare that verse with...
38 And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave (sheol).
29 And if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave (sheol).
30 Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad be not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad’s life;
31 It shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave (sheol).
Sheol Translated More Times As "Grave" And "Pit" Than "Hell"
In fact in the Hebrew scriptures the word "sheol" is translated as "grave" thirty one times and "pit" twice. Its translated as "hell" thirty one times in the Authorised (King James) Version. In fact, the following are the thirty one references to "hell" in the Hebrew scriptures, which are translated as "hell" from the original "sheol".
As an exercise, why not take each of the following thirty one instances of the word "sheol" that have been translated into "hell" in the Hebrew scriptures and substitute the words "grave" or "death" on the one hand, or "place of everlasting firey torment" on the other; and from the context provided within the verse, decide for yourself which interpretation fits best overall.
For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.
2 Samuel 22:6
The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me;
It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?
Hell is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering.
(Notice, this says "destruction", not everlasting torment)
The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.
For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.
Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.
For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.
The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.
Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death.
But he knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell.
Hell and destruction are before the LORD: how much more then the hearts of the children of men?
The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath.
This is a reference to a resurrection from the dead.
Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
This is a reference to a resurrection.
Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.
Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.
Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.
This is a reference to a resurrection.
Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:
And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.
And thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thy messengers far off, and didst debase thyself even unto hell.
I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to hell with them that descend into the pit: and all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, shall be comforted in the nether parts of the earth.
They also went down into hell with him unto them that be slain with the sword; and they that were his arm, that dwelt under his shadow in the midst of the heathen.
The strong among the mighty shall speak to him out of the midst of hell with them that help him: they are gone down, they lie uncircumcised, slain by the sword.
And they shall not lie with the mighty that are fallen of the uncircumcised, which are gone down to hell with their weapons of war: and they have laid their swords under their heads, but their iniquities shall be upon their bones, though they were the terror of the mighty in the land of the living.
Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down:
And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.
Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people:
Hades (Hell) in the New Testament
There are eleven instances in the Greek scriptures where the word "hades" is used. In one case it is translated "grave" and in the other ten cases it is translated as "hell". Again, given what we've discussed above, let's substitute the words "grave" or "place of everlasting firey torment"; and from the context provided within the verse, decide for which interpretation fits best overall.
And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell : for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell.
And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
Luke 16:23 is a scripture which is often used to endorse the traditional view of hell, but there is a lot of material which indicates that this is not the case. It's best to do a separate study on the subject of Lazarus and the Rich Man.
Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.
1 Corinthians 15:55
O death, where is thy sting? O grave (hades), where is thy victory?
I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
Reassuringly, scripture shows that after burial, instead of perpetual torture, there are resurrections.
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Sheol in www.answers.com and Sheol in Wikipedia.
Does Galatians really mean the Mosaic law (the written Torah) is " done away" especially if, in the predominantly Jewish New Testament church, no fuss was recorded about it, yet in Acts only one small and predictable change about the circumcision of gentile proselytes caused massive turmoil.
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