Sheol’s Younger Twin

Twin carved busts

Again, as so often is the case, we look to the Old Testament for the beginnings of a doctrine, a principle or a truth taught in the New Testament. We look to the New Testament to see those doctrines, principles and truths fully revealed, cast in the light, or come to fruition.

 For example, in the New Testament we find the types and shadows of the Tabernacle fully revealed, a light shining on a better covenant and the ordinances of the annual sacrifice on the Day of Atonement come to fruition in the ultimate sacrificial lamb, Jesus Christ. Again, we are rich beyond measure.

So, I am going to look to the new, this time to continue the investigation of what was started in the old, in the hope of gaining that depth, clarity and context for which we have been looking. The subject matter, again? Hell.

First stop, the second time – my concordance:

The word “hell” in the New Testament is translated 10 times from the Greek hades and once Hades is a translated “grave”.

One occurrence of the word “hell” is translated from the Greek, tartaroo (verb: to “cast down to hell”) or tartarus (noun: the place “hell”). It is a special case because that word is used only once in the entire New Testament and never again. It points to a temporary place where Peter tells us that the angels that sinned are being held in “chains of darkness” awaiting judgement (2 Peter 2:4-6). Jude, in his epistle (v. 6), mentions this place as well, but not by name. Only the angels are held there and then only until they are judged.

There are twelve more occurrences of the word “hell” in the New Testament, translated this time from the Greek, Gehenna. We will begin treating these occurrences in the next few chapters.

So, hell from hades (10) + hell from Gehenna (12) + hell from tartarus (1) = 23 occurrences of the English “hell” coming from three different Greek words: hades, Gehenna and tartarus. Good so far?

Remember, according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, the Hebrew word, sheol, is defined as: the grave or the realm of the dead. Well, Easton’s, along with Smith’s Bible Dictionary and Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology all position hades as the New Testament equivalent of sheol of the Old Testament.1 We can show that translating hades as the “grave” is contextually supported by all the passages containing the word. (See Table 3.1)

W.E. Vine says that some have thought that the root word of hades carries with it the connotation of “the unseen” (from a, negative, and eido, to see) but he favors “all receiving” (from the root hado) as a more probable overtone. Remember, the Old Testament Hebrews saw sheol as the resting place of all the dead, both righteous and wicked. We are in the process of showing the same for hades, which Vine says was also “unhappily rendered ‘Hell’”.2 So, hades is the unseen, all receiving realm of the dead – the grave.

Old Headstone with Greek Inscription

The Septuagint, again, was the first major translation of the Hebrew Bible. The entire Old Testament was translated into Greek and the earliest manuscripts were found with the Dead Sea Scrolls.  It is an extremely valuable resource, forming a bridge of sorts between the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. The Hebrew sheol is translated hades throughout the Greek Old Testament – another indicator of the parallel nature of the two words.

As is the case for sheol, the translators of recently revised versions of the Bible have inserted hades back into the text where it appears in the original manuscripts replacing the “unhappily rendered ‘hell’”. See the Holeman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) and the New International Version (NIV), which features a margin note that says, “the realm of the dead”.

I believe we were successful in showing that a rendering of hades as the “grave” is a much better fit and is contextually supported in all the New Testament passages in which it appears. This will cap off a compelling argument that, as Vine said, hades has been “unhappily rendered ‘hell”.


1M.G. Easton, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, pd. 1897, William Smith, Smith’s Bible Dictionary, London: John Murray, pd. 1863, and Walter A. Elwell (ed), Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Ada, Michigan: ©1984

2W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., ©1997, p. 517.

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