A Comparison: Sheol and Hades
Premise: A word in one language used to translate a word in another language should have the same meaning.
Question: What happens when we compare the Hebrew word sheol with the Greek word hell?
We have already discussed the meaning of sheol which is the only word in Hebrew that is translated as hell in the KJV. In essence it is the place of the dead or the state of the dead. People who die and go to “sheol” are no longer able to be seen. They have departed from this world.
Bodies in graves are no longer visible.
In the New Testament there are 3 words translated as hell. We are going to deal with one of them in this article, the Greek word, Hades. Some of you know that the Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Old Testament, compiled about the 3rd century B.C. Not many people have one but a dear friend of mine gave me a Hatch and Redpath Concordance to the Septuagint. Using it I can find every verse in the Greek Septuagint where Hades is used and I can also see what Hebrew word is translated by Hades in each of those verses. If you look up the word Hades you will find that it is used to translate the Hebrew word sheol constantly. On occasion, sheol is translated by thanatos, another Greek word we have already discussed. So what does Hades actually mean? Turning to our Strong’s Concordance we see the following for Hades.
G86 adhz hadēs hah'-dace
From G1 (as a negative particle) and G1492; properly unseen, that is, “Hades” or the place (state) of departed souls: - grave, hell.
In English we can create a “negative word” by placing “im” or “un” in front of a word such as impossible or unforgettable. In Greek this is done by placing an “a” or alpha in front of the word. Strong’s is telling us that Hades comes from the Greek word G1492 but it has a negative prefix. The word identified has G1492, ido, means to see. Hence Hades means unseen. Note that Strong’s describes this as the place or state of departed souls. This is exactly what we saw to be the definition of sheol so these words are a very accurate translation of each other when the definitions are literally considered. Sheol and Hades are simply stating that people have died, they have departed this world and are no longer visible or seen. What is missing in their actual meanings is any mention of eternal punishment.
In the New Testament, Hades only appears 11 times. In Matt. 11:23 and Luke 10:15, Jesus declares that Capernaum will be brought down to hell or Hades in the Greek. Since Jesus wasn’t speaking Greek what he most likely said was that Capernaum would be brought down to sheol. The Jamieson Faucsett and Brown commentary, the Adam Clarke commentary and the Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible all agree that these verses have nothing to with a place of eternal punishment. Instead, Jesus was simply saying that Capernaum, i.e. the people of Capernaum were going to be destroyed, that they would find themselves in a state of desolation or destruction. Somewhere around the 11th century, Capernaum, the city, literally was abandoned, it ceased to exist, it became “unseen.”
The next appearance of Hades is in a tremendously interesting place. It is in Luke 16:23 which is a verse in the “parable” of Lazarus and the rich man. I know that there are many who have been taught that this story is not a parable and therefore this story proves the existence of hell. We will return to this parable in a future segment but for now let me simply point out the following. If we go back to the beginning of Luke 15 we see that Jesus speaks “a parable” to the Pharisees, Scribes, publicans and sinners. That one parable is actually made up of 5 smaller parables which are related in Luke 15 and 16 and which are 1) the parable of the lost sheep 2) the parable of the lost piece of silver 3) the prodigal son 4) the rich man and the steward and finally 5) Lazarus and the rich man. We can’t get into the details in this segment but when you understand the parable of Lazarus and the rich man you will see that it is an allegory that hits the Pharisees right between the eyes. They realize that Jesus is telling their story, the story of Israel and needless to say, they don’t like it. I don’t expect any of you to simply take my word for it, but this story has nothing to do with God punishing a rich man in hell for all of eternity as you will see when we return to this parable.
We have one more verse to look at in the gospels. It is a very familiar verse. Matthew 16:18 says, “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.”
I want you to consider how pointless and irrelevant this statement is in the grand scheme of things if hell as an eternal prison is the fate of most of humanity.. 2nd Peter 3:9 states that it is God’s desire that none should perish. If most of humanity is instead going to end up lost as is clearly the case based upon fundamental Christian theology, how could anyone say, including Jesus, that the gates of hell won’t prevail against the church or to be blunt, against God? God is supposedly going to lose most of humanity forever. Is God so overjoyed that a minority got saved and avoided hell, is God so thrilled that His “Church” got saved that He can declare that Hell will not “prevail?” The Greek word for prevail is katischuo and it means to overpower. Just exactly how successful is the church at overpowering hell if most of humanity is going to spend eternity in hell? Apparently not very successful, at least in my opinion.
Let me ask you to consider something else now in regards to this verse. Who created hell, this supposed place of eternal punishment? Who decreed that sinners should be sent to hell and punished forever with apparently no mercy ever being possible? According to Christian theology, there is only one answer that is possible. GOD! So God has apparently enacted laws, rendered his verdict and created the eternal prison in hell but then creates a church to go and overpower this place which He created. This is bordering on the absurd and ridiculous. We need to go back and rethink this.
The gates of Hades or death, i.e. the state of dying will not prevail against the church or anyone else for that matter. Biblically, it is death or mortality will be overcome or even better, overpowered and immortality will become the reality. We are going to cover this in a future segment but go and read 1st Corinthians 15 and see if Paul is concerned with a place of eternal punishment called hell or, if in fact, he recognizes that it is death, i.e. mortality, that must be overpowered and vanquished.
Moving on, we come to Acts 2:27 and 2:31. They read respectively, “Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” and “He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.” These words when spoken originally by Peter were spoken in Hebrew or Aramaic. Can you see any Hebrew parallelisms in them? I would suggest to you that we have the following ones. In 2:27 we have leave and suffer, Holy One and soul and hell and corruption. In 2:31 we have soul and flesh and hell and corruption again. In the story of Jesus we are told that he was raised from the dead in 3 days. This is pertinent in that there was a tradition that the body did not begin to rot or corrupt until at least 3 days had passed. Peter isn’t suggesting that Jesus was in some place of eternal torment but instead was stating that Jesus’ body wasn’t subjected to the decaying process. Jesus isn’t dead, He is very much alive. He was not and is not in “hell,” i.e. the place of the dead, he isn’t in a state of death, but instead is very much alive and well.
I have stated that Paul never once mentions hell, i.e. a place of eternal punishment, but the fact is, he does use the word Hades once. Let’s take a look. In 1st Corinthians 15:55 we read, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Can you see another parallelism staring you in the face? Death and grave and sting and victory are paralleled. Paul uses thanatos and Hades in parallel. I want to go back to something I just mentioned a couple of paragraphs previously. If death (be it thanatos, Hades, sheol or muth) isn’t the ultimate enemy that must be overpowered and in fact, most of humanity spends eternity in hell, pardon my English but what the “hell” is the big deal about overcoming death and the grave? Paul would be rejoicing over curing the common cold why all of humanity succumbs to something far worse. If there is an eternal hell and it could speak, it would have no problem replying to Paul’s words in 1st Cor. 15:55. It would simply say “Heh look over here, I have got billions of human beings here for all of eternity. There is my victory, there is my sting.” And to be blunt, it is a sting that God would have to endure for all of eternity!
The last three four verses in which we find Hades are all in Revelation. They are Revelation 1:18, 6:8 and 20:13-14.
In 1:18 Jesus has the keys of death and hell. If you want an example of inconsistency in translation, go back to the verse we just looked at. Why are thanatos and Hades translated as death and grave in 1st Cor. 15:55 and death and hell in Rev. 1:18? The grave is certainly a lot different than a place of eternal punishment, i.e hell. The fact is, Rev. 1:18 is written by a Hebrew, John, the apostle and he is using the same parallelism that we have seen repeatedly in the Old Testament and in Paul’s writings as well. Jesus has no keys nor does he need keys to an eternal place of punishment since it doesn’t exist in the first place. Hell is simply the state of death, i.e. the grave, out of sight.
Rev. 6:8 speaks of death with hell following death. Isn’t it strange how Hebrew parallelisms show up over and over. Or do we really think that a place of eternal torment has mounted up on a horse and is riding behind a horse carrying death? To be fair, some people may actually believe that this is what this verse is describing allegorically.
The last two mentions of Hades occur in Revelation 20:13-14. We read, “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.” Death and hell or death and the grave are two peas in a pod so to speak. What is amazing is that these verses tell us that “death and hell” (whatever you think hell to be) are emptied of its residents and yet how many Christian preachers keep warning people that they are in danger of spending eternity in hell? Do they think God empties hell and then turns around and throws people back into hell? Apparently so because it is clear the hell gets emptied. Perhaps these preachers etc. could clean up their theology and at least argue that people will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire but to suggest that people will spend eternity in hell is totally in error. Clearly hell and the Lake of Fire cannot be the same thing since hell is thrown into the Lake of Fire. Strange isn't it how you have probably never heard a sermon on hell being destroyed.
To conclude this segment, when it comes to Hades I hope that you can see that just like sheol, this word has nothing to do with eternal torment. It literally means out of sight or hidden. When we die, when our bodies are placed in the grave, we become part of the unseen world of the dead. Good or bad, holy or unholy, we have entered Hades.
Blessings, shalom, namaste