Article of the Month

June 2010

HELL in the OLD TESTAMENT

In the Article of the Month for December, 2008, we dealt with Hell in the New Testament.  Looking at the same subject in the Old Testament scriptures is helpful.  We know which Hebrew word is the equal of which Greek word because the Apostles do the translating for us.  When, in the New Testament, they quote an Old Testament text containing the word “hell” (“sheol” in Hebrew), they translate it using the Greek word “hades.”  Thus we have the inspired Apostles’ word for it that SHEOL and HADES are equivalents.

It might be helpful to recall that hades is the only New Testament word justifiably translated hell.  Two other words (gehenna and tartaroo) are also translated “hell,” BUT SHOULD NOT BE.

 — Sheol —

In the Old Testament “sheol” is translated “hell” 31 times; it is translated “grave” 31 times; and 3 times it is translated “pit.”  (We are using figures based on the King James Bible.)

It should be an immediate alarm to us that such vastly different concepts come out of the same word.  Surely those who believe in eternal torment would not want “sheol” to be translated “grave,” since we all go to the grave!

— First Use of the Word —

The very first time “sheol” appears in the Bible is in Genesis 37:35.  It does not seem surprising that its first use should be in Genesis—the first book of the Bible.  But if care be taken, we realize that Biblical chronology shows that this first use of the word is uttered by Jacob.  It is more than 2,200 years after Adam’s creation, and more than ONE-THIRD through the entire history of man.  If God intended to allow people to spend an eternity in torment, and if He represented that fate in the word “hell” (sheol), it seems rather thoughtless that the word is never mentioned until a third of man’s history is past!

Additionally mysterious is that this first use of the word is by Jacob who is mourning over the supposed death of his beloved son Joseph.  These two were friends of God.  Yet Jacob says his son Joseph is in sheol, and he (Jacob) will join him there!

It is not difficult to see why the translators chose to translate “sheol” as “grave” in this instance.  “Hell” (at least by their understanding) did not seem to be an appropriate translation!  It is in this one first usage of sheol (hell) that we see how religious prejudice and misunderstanding colors and destroys truth.  The fact is, HELL is THE CONDITION OF OBLIVION we all experience when we die.  “Grave” is not the best translation, but it does come closer than “hell”!

—  Covered Over  — 

Hell is an English word.  Its original meaning was something like “a covered place” or “covered over.”  It is to this day used that way in England and in parts of the Appalachian Mountains. When new thatch is put on a roof, the process is called “helling the roof.”  When potatoes are stored underground for keeping, it is called “helling the potatoes.”  The same word over time had its vowel changed from E to A.  Thus, a large room, or even a large house, was (and is) called a HALL—a covered-over place. 

The Hebrew word “sheol” (and thus its Greek equivalent, “hades,”) has a similar original meaning.  The meaning came from the fact that when something is covered over, we can’t see it.  So, while “grave” IS a covered over place, the original intent of sheol is OBLIVION—as in “out of sight, out of mind,” that is the say, NON-EXISTANT.

While a very few of the 65 uses of “sheol” in the Old Testament, and of the 10 uses of “hades” in the New Testament, require a little explanation with this definition, the vast majority of the uses are so easily understood and reasonable when the word simply means OBLIVION.  If you wish to go through them all, consult a Strong’s Concordance under the words “hell,” “grave,” and “pit.”  All of them which are numbered 7585 are translations of the Hebrew word “sheol.”  Or, if you wish, contact us and we will send you a free copy of

WHAT SAY THE SCRIPTURES CONCERNING HELL?
This booklet covers all the uses of the word in Old and New Testaments, and is a valuable tool for a successful study of the subject.

—  Summary  —

When Old Testament translators faced the word “sheol,” they tended to translate it “grave” if the passage was about good people; they tended to translate it “hell” when it was about bad people; and they translated it “pit” in Numbers 16:30 and 33 when the ground literally parted and swallowed not only the rebels, but all of their belongings.

The third use of “pit” is in Job 17:16.  In 17:13 sheol was translated “grave” as the destination for the good man, Job. Then, the translators seem uncertain about the meaning of verse 16, so they use “pit.” Dr. Isaac Leeser’s translation of 17:16, however, is clear:  “Let then my limbs sink down to sheol; truly in the dust alone there is rest for all.”

This is in harmony with one of the clearest Old Testament texts on the Bible “hell.”  It is in Ecclesiastes 9:10.  It reads, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave (sheol, grave, hell, pit) wither thou goest.” The writer of Ecclesiastes has defined OBLIVION.  The wonderful thing about the Bible “hell” is that there is no consciousness in it.  It is TEMPORARY NON-EXISTENCE.  But it will give up its dead in the time of resurrection.  (Revelation 20:13)

An understanding of the truth of the matter removes all fear.  The nightmarish imaginations of misled religionists can be assigned to the rubbish heap of human errors.  The character of God will be fully understood and vindicated when mankind arises from the tomb (oblivion) and experiences the untold blessings in store for them.  “Thy Kingdom Come!”

Please consider these additional texts.

Isaiah 29:13:  “…their fear toward Me [God] is taught by the precept
                       of men.”

Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5; 32:35:  The prophet, speaking of the children
                       of Israel burning their children alive in fire, states that
                       this torment  never entered God’s mind or heart; it
                       was abomination.

Hosea 13:14:  “I [God] will ransom them from the power of the
                        grave; I will redeem them from death:  O death, I will
                        be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction…”

 

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