Hell: What the Bible REALLY Teaches
WHAT IS HELL?
Just what is meant by this word “hell”?
They say, sometimes, “It’s cold as hell,”
Sometimes they say, “It’s hot as hell,”
When it rains, “It’s hell,” they cry,
And it’s also “hell” when it’s dry.
They “hate like hell” to see it snow,
It’s a “hell of a wind” when it starts to blow.
Now “how in the hell” can anyone tell
“What in the hell” they mean by this word “hell”?
This married life is “hell” they say…
When he comes in late, there’s “hell to pay.”
When she starts to yell, it’s a “hell of a note,”
And it’s “hell” when the kids you have to tote.
It’s “hell” when the doctor sends his bills,
For a “hell of a lot” of trips and pills,
And when you get this you will know real well
Just what is meant by this word “hell.”
“Hell yes,” “Hell no,” and “Oh hell” too,
“The hell you don’t” and “the hell you do;”
And “what in the hell?” “0 the hell it is!”
“The hell with yours!” and “the hell with his!”
Now “who in the hell?”—and “0 hell where?”
And “what in the hell do you think I care?”
But “the hell of it is,” “it’s as sure as hell,”
That we don’t know “what in the hell,”
James Whitcomb Riley’s uproariously funny poem illustrates perfectly the confusion that prevails in our culture over the meaning of the word “hell.” Tragically, a nearly equal level of confusion exists in the minds of most Christians. As “God is not the author of confusion” (I Corinthians 14:33, NKJV) we must seek the origin and explanation of this confusion elsewhere.
We believe that it originates primarily from two sources: 1) the traditions of men [cf. Mark 7:13], and 2) translations of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts into English by men who were influenced by said traditions. For example, The King James Version of the Holy Bible translates one Hebrew and three Greek words by the single English word “hell.’ The Hebrew word SHEOL [Aramaic=SHYUL] it renders as “hell” 31 times. It also renders as “hell” the Greek words HADES (10 times), GEHENNA (12 times), and, in its verbal form, TARTARUS (1 time). Now each of these Hebrew and Greek words has a very specific and distinct meaning. They should not have been translated by the same English word. Some of the newer translations have attempted to remedy this. However, these are not always consistent.
The infidel Voltaire is reputed to have said: “if we would speak, we must first define our terms.” Sound advice, this! In the studies that follow we shall endeavor to do just that.
WHAT IS SHEOL?
In the Old Testament, it is often said of those who have breathed their last and died, that they have been “gathered” to their fathers, or to their people. The word “gathered“ used in such expressions is from the Hebrew ASAPH, which means, among other things, to gather together or to gather up.(1) Such phrases occur many times in Scripture. For example:
Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, AND WAS GATHERED UNTO HIS PEOPLE. (Gen. 25:8, NKJV)
Does this mean that Abraham was gathered up into heaven? Was that where his “fathers” or “people” were to be found? Again,
And when Jacob had finished commanding his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last, AND WAS GATHERED TO HIS PEOPLE. (Gen. 49:33, NKJV)
Jacob also was gathered to his people. Did he believe he would go to heaven to be with Abraham when he died? Let’s see.
When Jacob thought that his son Joseph had been killed by wild beasts,
… all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him.; but he refused to be comforted, and he said: ‘FOR I SHALL GO DOWN INTO THE GRAVE [SHEOL] TO MY SON in mourning. (Gen. 37:35, NKJV)
Jacob obviously did not believe his son was up in heaven, nor did he believe that he himself would ascend there at death. Rather, Jacob believed he would go DOWN into SHEOL! Where then are “the people” or “the fathers” to whom the righteous patriarchs believed they would be gathered after having breathed their last and died? THEY ARE ALL DOWN IN SHEOL!
According to Young’s Analytical Concordance the Hebrew word SHEOL occurs 65 times in the Old Testament. The translators of the King James Version rendered it “hell” 31 times, “grave” 31 times and “pit” 3 times. Needless to say, this has caused quite a bit of confusion!
Back in 1611 “hell” was a good translation of SHEOL. Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary reveals that our English word “hell” was derived from the Old Saxon “helan,” which simply meant “to cover.” In old England, the covering over of a roof with thatch was called “heling” it. To cover up potatoes in a root cellar was called “heling” them. Today, however, the word “hell” evokes images of throngs of helpless people mercilessly tormented in an endless flame while being poked and prodded by demons with pitchforks!
How different the Biblical teaching regarding the condition of both the saved and unsaved dead:
There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest. There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor. (Job 3:17-18, KJV).(2)
The KJV renders SHEOL as “grave” 31 times. This is a fairly good rendering, but it is still a bit confusing. For we tend to think of a grave in an individual or singular sense — much like a tomb. But in Hebrew the word QEBER covers this range of meanings. In the KJV QEBER is rendered “grave” 35 times, “sepulchre” 26 times and burying place 6 times. Finally, the KJV renders SHEOL as “pit” 3 times. The problem here is that they also render 11 other Hebrew words as “pit.” Therefore, several modern translations — such as the RSV and the NASV — leave SHEOL untranslated in order to avoid confusion. But this brings us right back to our original question. Just what is SHEOL? What does the word actually mean?
The etymology of SHEOL is uncertain. Some scholars derive it from SHAAL,(3) which means to ask or to inquire,—as if to say of the dead: “Which way did they go?” Other scholars suggest the Hebrew stem SHILAH which means to be quiet or to be at ease.(4) As we shall see, this latter suggestion matches up well with the many Scriptural depictions of the state of the dead in SHEOL. Nevertheless, for a serviceable English definition of SHEOL, I have found none more Scriptural or lucid than that given by Johannes Pedersen in his book Israel: It’s Life and Culture:
Sheol is the entirety into which all graves are merged; … Where there is grave, there is sheol, and where there is sheol, there is grave. (Vol. 1, p.462)
In other words, in contrast to the Hebrew word QEBER, which denotes an individual grave or tomb, SHEOL SIGNIFIES THE COMMON GRAVE OF MANKIND, OR “GRAVEDOM.”
THE STATE OF THE DEAD IN SHEOL
Under a column headed “With the Lord,” a weekly church newsletter recently noted the deaths of two ministers of their particular denomination. Are these two ministers really in the presence of God, in a conscious state? If so, they most certainly must be joyfully praising the Lord with all who preceded them! But what does the Scripture say of those who have died? King David wrote:
The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence. (Psa. 115:17, KJV)
David tells us plainly that they do not praise the Lord, because they go down into a place of silence. The Septuagint [LXX] rendering of this verse is also illuminating:
The dead shall not praise Thee, 0 Lord, nor any that go down to HADES.
In the original Hebrew of the Old Testament the dead are said to go down into SHEOL. In the Aramaic (or Syriac) translations of both the Old and New Testaments SHYUL is used with exactly the same meaning as SHEOL. But what of the Greek word HADES?
Around 280 BCE Jewish scholars in Alexandria, Egypt translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek for the use of Greek speaking Jews of the diaspora and Gentile proselytes. This version is known as the Septuagint [LXX]. Whenever these translators came upon the Hebrew word SHEOL they rendered it by the Greek word HADES, which simply means the unseen.(5) Later, when the early Greek translators/writers of New Testament literature quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures (or their Aramaic versions: the “Targums”) they followed the LXX in rendering SHEOL by the Greek word HADES. For instance, in Psa. 16:10, King David says:
For Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [SHEOL].(KJV)
As part of his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter quoted Psalm 16:10 (see Acts 2:27). As this sermon was probably delivered in Aramaic, Peter used the word SHYUL. Later, when Peter’s sermon was included in the Book of Acts, which Luke penned in Greek, the Greek word HADES was substituted on the basis of its usage in the LXX. Our point is that whether the Semitic words SHEOL or SHYUL are used, or the Greek word HADES is substituted, the meaning is exactly the same. HADES is also simply a reference to the common grave of humanity or “gravedom.”(6) We emphasize this fact because many Christians read into the word HADES meanings imported from its pagan Greek usage. In his classic study The Fire That Consumes, evangelical scholar Edward William Fudge summarizes the pagan Greek view of HADES:
In Greek mythology Hades was the god of the underworld, and then the name of the netherworld itself. Charon ferried the souls of the dead across the rivers Styx or Acheron into his abode, where the watchdog Cerberus guarded the gate so that none might escape.
The pagan myth contained all the elements of the medieval eschatology: there was the pleasant Elysium, the gloomy and miserable Tartarus, and even the plains of Asphodel, where ghosts could wonder who were suited for neither of the above.”(p.205)
In medieval Catholic eschatology, the Biblical Paradise coalesced with the “pleasant Elysium.” “The gloomy and miserable Tartarus” and “the plains of Asphodel” survived in the Catholic conceptions of hell and purgatory. With the exception of Purgatory, these unscriptural concepts were passed down, via mainline Protestantism, to the evangelical churches of today. These still have a ways to go before they have finished casting off medieval superstition and complete the Reformation.
We will now turn from human traditions to the inspired Scriptures, and allow them to instruct us concerning the state of the dead in SHEOL-HADES.
As noted above, in Psalm 16:10 King David recognized that he would go to SHEOL, but he had faith that God would not leave him there permanently. We also saw in Psalm 115:17 that King David regarded SHEOL as a place of “silence.” Now the reason SHEOL is called a place of “silence” is because there all mental activity ceases.
David further instructs us:
His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish. (Psa. 146:4, KJV) (7)
The Hebrew word rendered “perish” here is ABAD, which means destroyed or lost.(8) David is saying here that at death man loses consciousness.
The condition of the dead in SHEOL-HADES is further described as non-being or nonexistence:
While I live I will praise the Lord: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.(Psa. 7 46:2, KJV)
In this fine example of Hebrew parallelism, the phrases “while I live” and “while I have any being” have the same meaning.(9) As long as David is alive he has being. When he dies he will no longer have being! The LXX confirms this interpretation. It renders the final clause of Psalm 146:2 “as long as I exist.”(10) This indicates that, like us, the ancient Jewish translators of the LXX understood death to be a state of non-existence. For if “while I live” equals “as long as I exist,” then, conversely, when David ceased to live he also ceased to exist!
King David was well aware that he had to do all his praising of God before he died, because he knew that there could be no remembrance or consciousness — and therefore no praising of God — in SHEOL-HADES.
For in death there is no remembrance of Thee [God]; in the grave [SHEOL] who shall give Thee thanks? (Psa.6:5, KJV)
The righteous patriarch Job also knew that he would have to wait in SHEOL until his resurrection:
If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time shall I wait until my change come.(Job 14:14, KJV)
The LXX rendering of this verse is enlightening:
For if a man should die, shall he live again? I will wait till I EXIST again. (11)
In other words, Job believed that he would have to wait in SHEOL until he existed again at the resurrection. In the interim between Job’s death and his resurrection he would be non-existent! Once more Job:
If I wait, the grave [SHEOL] is my house. I have made my bed in the darkness.(Job 17:73, KJV)
Notice here that Job did not say that his body would go to a place of darkness, but ‘I have made MY bed in the darkness.” it is Job himself, in his psycho-physical entirety”(12) who will descend into the darkness, which, as we have seen, is also described as a state of unconsciousness, silence and non-existence.
Scripture tells us that David’s son, King Solomon, was the wisest man who ever lived. Naturally, Solomon confirms his fathers’ teaching:
For the living know that they shall die; but the dead know not anything. (Eccl.9:5, KJV)
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], whither thou goest. (Eccl.9: 10, KJV) (13)
We will conclude this portion of our study of SHEOL with a testimony from good King Hezekiah:
... the grave [SHEOL] cannot praise Thee, death cannot celebrate Thee; they that go down into the pit cannot hope for Thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise Thee as I do this day.(Isa.38:18-19, KJV)
Hezekiah was not saying that there is no hope of resurrection. He simply says that the dead cannot hope because they are dead. Note how he contrasts “the living” with those who are in “the grave [SHEOL].” Our point is that those who are living are not in SHEOL and those who are in SHEOL are not living! Could anything be plainer?” (14)
The above Scriptures are not obscure and isolated passages. There are numerous other passages of Scripture that coincide perfectly with them in their teaching. In fact, we may assert without fear of contradiction that the preponderance of God’s Word plainly teaches that the dead — represented as silent and unconscious — have literally passed into a state of non-being or non-existence.
THE “SLEEP” OF THE DEAD IN SHEOL
The Holy Spirit inspired Moses, Job, kings David and Solomon, Isaiah, Daniel, our Lord Jesus Christ, Luke, Paul and Peter to euphemistically refer to the dead as being “asleep.”
In Deuteronomy 31:16 we read:
And the Lord God said unto Moses, ‘Thou shalt sleep with thy fathers.'(KJV)
This same expression- —“sleep with thy fathers”– –occurs 36 times in the books of Kings and Chronicles alone! It would seem that our God desires that His people be familiar with this phrase. As we shall soon see, the sleep metaphor is often used in the New Testament as well. But first let us examine a sampling of Old Testament passages that employ “sleep” and related terminology.
So man lieth down, and riseth not; till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. (Job 14:12, KJV)
Consider and hear me, 0 Lord my God; lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death. (Psa. 13:3, KJV)
As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness.(Psa.17:15, KJV)
And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake….(Dan. I2:2a, KJV)
But go thy way until the end be; for thou shalt rest and stand in thy lot at the end of days. (Dan.12:13, KJV)
... for now I shall sleep in the dust; and Thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be. (Job 7:21, KJV)
Now let’s look at a sampling of New Testament Scriptures:
Now all wept and mourned for her; but He said, ‘Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping.(Luke 8:52-53, KJV)
These things He said, and after that He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that / may wake him up.’ Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly: ‘Lazarus is dead.‘(John 17:11-14, KJV)
For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen … And if Christ is not risen … then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.(l Cor. 15:16-18, NKJV)
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.(I Cor.15:20, NKJV)
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.(1 Thess. 4:14, NKJV)
For this we say to you by the Word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.(I Thess.4:15, NKJV)
At this point we would like to introduce one more piece of evidence for the sleep of the dead. In I Corinthians 15:7 the apostle Paul states that, after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His brother James. As this incident is not recorded in our canonical Gospels, it is usually assumed that Paul’s source for this information must have been oral tradition (perhaps from James himself — cf. Gal. 1:18-19). It is also possible that Paul’s source was the lost Gospel of the Hebrews, sometimes called the Gospel of the Nazarenes. A fragment of this lost apocryphal “Gospel”—if not the written source of Paul’s information in 1 Corinthians 15:7 — at least appears to draw on the same oral tradition. Here is the fragment:
Now the Lord, when He had given the linen cloth to the servant of the priest, went to James and appeared to him (for James had swore that he would not eat bread from that hour wherein he had drunk the Lord’s cup until he should see Him rise from among them that sleep). And again after a little while, ‘Bring you,’ said the Lord, ‘a table and bread’….[and immediately it is added He took bread and blessed and broke and gave it to James the Just and said to him, ‘My brother, eat you bread, for the Son of Man is risen from among them that sleep.” (15)
So we see that in both the Old and New Testaments, as well as in early Jewish-Christian tradition, death is likened to sleep. This is because both in deep sleep and in death the subject is unconscious and wholly unaware of the passage of time and events.
Unfortunately, this inspired and revealing terminology did not long survive apostolic times. It soon disappeared from the teaching of the Latin and Greek churches. While farther East, in the Aramaic (Syriac) speaking churches, it continued to be used and often understood until after the Hellenizing reforms of the fourth and fifth centuries.(16)” In the medieval West it was seldom used, until at the time of the Reformation, it was briefly revived by William Tyndale and Martin Luther. It also enjoyed a brief resurgence among the early Anabaptists.’ (17)
Martin Luther, the Prince of the Reformers, wrote concerning the sleep of the dead believer:
We should learn to view our death in the right light, so that we need not become alarmed on account of it, as unbelief does; because in Christ it is indeed not death, but a fine, sweet and brief sleep, which brings us relief from this vale of tears, from sin, and from the fear and extremity of real death, and from all the misfortunes of this life, and we shall be secure and without care, rest sweetly and gently for a brief moment as on a sofa, until the time when He shall call and awaken us together with all His dear children to His eternal glory and joy.
For since we call it a sleep, we know that we shall not remain in it, but be again awakened and live, and that the time during which we sleep, shall seem no longer than if we had just fallen asleep.
Hence, we shall censure ourselves that we were surprised or alarmed at such a sleep in the hour of death, and suddenly come alive out of the grave and from decomposition, and entirely well, fresh, with a pure, clear, glorified life, meet our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…
Scripture everywhere affords such consolation, which speaks of the death of the saints as if they fell asleep and were gathered to their fathers,—that is, had overcome death through this faith and comfort in Christ, and awaited resurrection, together with the saints who preceded them in death. (A Compend of Luther’s Theology ed. Hugh Thompson, p.242) (18)
Luther’s views on the sleep of the dead were soon suppressed by his followers; no doubt under the influence of his colleague Melancthon, who along with Swiss Reformer John Calvin, continued to teach the traditional Catholic view. Calvin’s first book, titled Psychopannychia which he wrote against certain Anabaptist teachers, was an attack on the doctrine of the sleep of the dead. Heinrich Bullinger, another Swiss Reformer and a prolific author, popularized Calvin’s views both in England and on the Continent, thereby insuring that the traditional Catholic view became the official stance of the Protestant Reformation.(19) And this, of course, is the historical source of this false teaching among the evangelical churches of today. But thanks be to God! Due to the persistent and painstaking efforts of certain critical and evangelical scholars, the Scriptural doctrine of the sleep of the dead and related truths are once again seeing the light of day!”(20)
JESUS, PETER, AND JOHN ON HADES
There are 4 references to HADES in the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23). Of these, the f first three add nothing to what we have discussed above, being in full harmony with the teachings of the Old Testament on SHEOL. The fourth reference is entirely figurative, (21) being found in a parable; and is, therefore, of no use in determining the meaning of HADES.(22)
Apart from its 4 occurrences in the Gospels, HADES is found twice in the Book of Acts (2:27 & 3 1). Here the apostle Peter applies David’s prophecy in Psalm 16:9-10 to the death and resurrection of Jesus. (23)
The 4 remaining New Testament occurrences of HADES are found in the Book of Revelation (1: 18; 6:8; 20:13 & 14). In each of these it is paired with “death” and, as everywhere else in Scripture, means GRAVEDOM. (24)
The apostle Paul admonished Timothy to “hold fast the pattern of sound words“(2 Timothy 1:13, NKJV). We believe that it is of the utmost importance that we confine ourselves to the God-breathed terminology of the Holy Scriptures when we speak of the state of the dead. For if we stray from the sound words of Scripture—“words … which the Hoiy Spirit teaches” (1 Corinthians 2:13, NKJV) — we may eventually stray from sound teaching as well!
1 The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon p.62, col.2.
2 While SHEOL is not directly mentioned in this verse, the Hebrew word QEBER (tomb or individual grave) occurs in the immediate context (verse 22). One cannot be in QEBER without being in SHEOL. Therefore, the dead in Job 3:17-18 are in SHEOL.
3 The Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance To The Old Testament (George V. Wigram), p. 1220 [compare entries 2 & 6].
4 Immortality Or Resurrection?, Samuele Bacchiocchi, p.1 59.
5 “Gr. Hades, from a (privative) and idein, to see…,used by the Greeks for the unseen world.”(The Companion Bible Appendix 131, p. 162). The translators of the LXX no doubt chose HADES because it was somewhat similar in meaning to SHEOL, and was already associated with the “underworld” in its pagan Greek usage. HADES is also related to HADAYLOS. “not clear, unseen” (Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament And Other Early Christian Literature p.16, col.2). This latter word is found in Luke 11:44, where it is used of “graves which are not seen” (NKJV).
6 Soon after the return to Palestine from the Babylonian Captivity, an un-Hebraic “body-soul dualism,” Persian in origin, began to infect Jewish eschatological teaching. By the time of Christ, this influence — further reinforced by Hellenistic concepts — had become widespread. (The evidence is reviewed in Enoch and Elijah: R.I.P., M. Thomas Wark, pp.3-6 & pp. I9n.5 and 20n.12).
7 Some suggest that this merely means that at death a man’s plans come to nothing (The NKJV actually changes “thoughts” to “plans”!). This is a dodge, for the reason given for the cessation of “thoughts” is that the MAN is no longer breathing and is in the earth decaying!
8 According to Young’s Analytical Concordance: “Index-Lexicon To The Old Testament,” p.1, the King James translators rendered ABAD as: be broken[l ], be destroyed, be lost, be perished[ 12], be ready to perish, be undone[l], be void of], fail, perish, not have[l] destruction[l). The Infinitive they rendered destruction. They rendered the Piel form as: cause to perish, destroy, lose, make to perish, spend[l], be destroyed[l]. The Hiph’il form they rendered as: cause to perish, destroy, take. This range of meanings suggests that the correct interpretation of Psa. 146:4 is that there is not a trace of consciousness left in death!
‘9 The Hebrew word behind the phrase “while I have any being” can also be rendered “While I have continuance” (cp. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon pp. 728 [col.2] & 729 [cols.1 & 2]. This agrees with the testimony of Job: “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He comes forth like flower AND FADES AWAY; he flees like a shadow AND DOES NOT CONTINUE” (Job 14.1-2, NKJV).
10 ” – as long as I exist [huparxo].” Brenton’s translation of the Greek is quite accurate. A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint Part Two, p. 487, col. 2, defines the verb huparxo: “to be present, to be there,….to exist, to be.”
11 “…till I exist [genomai] again.” According to The Analytical Lexicon to the Septuagint p. 84, col.1, the verb genomai is the 2nd aorist-middle-subjunctive of ginomai, which means “to be born, to be begotten,”–in other words, to come into being! (A Greek-English Lexicon to the Septuagint Part One, p.90, col.1)
12 “It is characteristic of dualism that it conceives two things where there is only one, and sees the body as something OTHER than man….In Hebrew the soul is the man. Indeed we should not say that man HAS a soul, but that he IS a soul; nor consequently that he has a body, but that he is a body …. Unhampered by the body-soul dichotomy, the Hebrew calls this tangible, sensible, expressive, and living reality that is man, a soul. I perceive, not a ‘body’ which contains a ‘soul,’ but, directly, a living soul….For the living man, Hebrew uses indiscriminately the term ‘soul,’ NEPHESH, or the term ‘flesh,’ BASAR….Nowhere do we find the word flesh used to convey what we mean by ‘body.”‘ (A Study of Hebrew Thought Claude Tresmontant, pp.90, 94 & 95; emphasis ours)
13 There are some scholars who would have us believe that we cannot take Solomon’s statements in Ecclesiastes at face value, since he was discoursing on things “under the sun.” Others claim such statements are invalid because Solomon was “backslidden” when he penned them. BUT WHAT SAiTH THE SCRIPTURES?
And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart; even as the sand that is on the seashore. And Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men … (I Kings 4:29-3 1, KJV)
And God said unto him … I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall there arise any like unto thee. (I Kings 3:17-12, KJV)
And further, because the Preacher [Solomon] was wise, he still taught the people knowledge, yea, he set in order many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find out acceptable words, and that which was written uprightly, EVEN WORDS OF TRUTH. (Eccl. 72:9- 10, KJV)
Those who downplay Solomon’s teaching on the state of the dead overlook the fact that his statements on this subject ore in full agreement with those of King David and Job. Are we to believe that these men also were discoursing on things “under the sun,” or, worse yet, that they were “backslidden”? GOD FORBID!I!
14 Scholars generally agree that the Old Testament writings, with the possible exception of Isaiah 26 and Daniel 12, do not contain explicit references to the resurrection of the dead. At death the individual simply is gathered to his final (or father’s) place, the tomb. Sheol and the netherworld [‘eres] is described as the abode of the dead, not of people who continue to live after death [cf. Isa. 38:38; Sir. 77:28;7 4:12-191″(emphasis ours). The Old Testament Pseudepiarapho, Volume 1, p.xxxiii. (Ed. James H. Charlesworth).
15 Jerome, Of Illustrious Men 2. Quoted in: What Is Nazarene Judaism? A Brief Historical Synopsis (James Trimm), pp. 9-10.
16 “…Ephrem and other early Syriac writers took over another idea of Jewish origin, that of ‘the sheep of the dead in Sheol,’ a period of unconscious existence which bridges the gap between death and the Resurrection” (Sebastian P. Brock, St. Ephrem the Syriac: Hymms On Paradise, p.56; see also p. 131).
17 The Reformer and martyr Michael Sattler has been called the most significant of the first-generation leaders of Anabaptism. On the basis of the Biblical doctrine of the sleep of the dead, Sattle attacked the Roman Catholic doctrine of Mary, as “mediatrix.”(C. Arnold Snyder, The Life And Thought of Michael Sattler; pp.130-131; John H. Yoder, The Legacy of Michael Sattler; p.72 [number 5] and p.75 [w/p.83n.43]).
18 There are an estimated 125 similar references in Luther’s writings. Although he appears at times to have wavered in his views, Luther probably died believing in the sleep of the dead.
19 It is certainly one of the great ironies of Church History that a direct descendant of Heinrich Bullinger—namely E.W. Bullinger—has been used so mightily of God to restore the Biblical truth on the state of the dead!
20 Among the more recent evangelicals to defend the Biblical teaching on human mortality and the state of the dead are: Reformed Theologian Oscar Cullman, Lutheran theologian, Paul Althaus, Lutheran theologian T.A. Kantonen, Mennonite theologian Thomas N. Finger, Clark Pinnock, J. R. W. Stott, and Edward William Fudge, to name but a few.
21 “Although individuals are sometimes pictured as carrying on conversations in Sheol or engaging in other such lifelike pursuits (Isa.14:9-18)…personified for dramatic purposes….This is mythological language…borrowed from its pagan time and place…We should not supposed, however, that the Hebrews took the language literally or used it with its original pagan meaning….the Old Testament ‘demythologized’ such language and uses it only for effect, contrast or literary purposes.” [emphasis ours] (E.W. Fudge, The Fire that Consumes, pp.83-84).
22 The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). This account should not be taken literally! It is a parabolic SATIRE in which Jesus reprimands the Pharisees by taking their own false teaching on SHEOL-HADES and applying it to them. (See Otis Q. Sellers, The Rich Man and Lararus on this web site, and E.W. Bullinger, The Rich Man and Lazarus). Interestingly, in the early Syrian churches, which retained the Jewish teaching of the sleep of the dead in SHEOL, the Rich Man and Lazarus was regarded as a PARABLE (Sebastian P. Brock, St Ephrem The Syrian: Hymns On Paradise VII:27 [p.1 29]).
23 David himself “did not ascend into the heavens” (Acts 2:34) but “is both dead and buried and his tomb is with us to this day” (Acts 2:29).
24 On the other hand, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, never uses the word HADES in his writings. “Some [late Greek] manuscripts insert the word HADES in 1 Corinthians 15:5 where Paul seems to be loosely quoting Hosea 13:14, but these manuscripts are incorrect. Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus — the three oldest and best manuscripts — each read THANATOS rather than HADES”(G. Marsh Hilbourne & Micheal Wark, Thou Shalt Surely Die p.42). As German theologian and philologist Walter Bauer pointed out: “… what, for instance, Paul said, conditioned as he was by his Jewish past, was not always understood in the some terms by his gentile Christian hearers, who were also unable to dissociate themselves entirely from their previous ways of thought…. When Paul speaks of sacrifice, of the wrath of God or the dikaiosune Theou, it is quite correct to understand his words from the standpoint of Judaism. But what about his public, who have heard these words before, but with different connotations and associations? The way a passage is understood by its first readers has an immediate effect upon its later interpretation”(Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature p.xxiv). Paul was careful not to use the Greek word HADES with Gentile converts who would, for the most part, be unfamiliar with its Old Testament usage, and would be in danger of understanding it along the lines of pagan Greek mythology.