There are many people today who believe that Sheol/Hades is the same as the grave. In this post we will discuss this concept and show that they are not the same. Some denominations teach this and it comes from a basic misunderstanding of terms and some bad Bible translations. People who study the Scriptures need to have a basic understanding of the languages they were written in or just look up the words in the portion you are studying. This takes work but that is the only way to do it. But, you also need to understand idiomatic phrases also.
We don’t argue over translations because that is what they are, translations, and translations are predicated on who translates, what their knowledge of the biblical languages are, their understanding of Hebrew culture and idioms and so on. There are some good translations out there and some that are terrible. The bad ones contribute to so much misunderstanding. You must look up words for yourself and study their meanings.
As in all of our teachings and studies, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) will be used, along with the King James Version (KJV). But, a word to the wise. You need to be careful doing that also. For example, when looking up the word “liberty” in Galatians 5.1 in a popular lexicon, it says that “in the New Testament” and then it attempts to redefine the word whenever you find it in the New Testament. As a result, this Greek word (“eleutheria”) has a new definition when used in the New Testament that is different than what is used in the Tanach, so be careful when using lexicons.
Now, let’s look at the concept of Hades, or Sheol in Hebrew, and see how it related to kever, or grave, in the Scriptures. Sheol is used 66 times in the Tanach as the “netherworld” or “abode of the dead” and it cannot mean “grave”, even though the KJV translates it 31 times as “grave”, 31 times as “hell” and “pit” 3 times. The Hebrew word for grave is “kever” and the biblical authors did not view sheol and kever as synonymous.
In Isa 14.19 the king is thrown out of a kever (grave) into sheol, for example. A group of Hebrew scholars were commissioned to translate the Hebrew Tanach (so-called “old testament”) into Greek. This took time, but the work was completed before 132 BC. Because there were 72 scholars (from all 12 tribes by the way, so they were not “lost”) who worked on this translation, it was called the Septuagint (abbreviated by “LXX”). In the LXX, sheol is never translated “mneema”, or grave in Greek. Kever (Hebrew) is never translated as “hades” (Greek) either.
Kever is the fate of the body of flesh and sheol is the fate of the spirit (Psa 16.8-11, Phil 1.23). Sheol is under the earth (Isa 14.9; 44.23; Ezek 26.20, 31.14,16,18; 32.18,24; Psa 63.9; 139.8; Gen 37.34-35). Those in Sheol are conscious (Isa 44.23; Ezek 31.16). There are 19 contrasts between kever (grave) and Sheol:
(1) You can’t bury in Sheol (Gen 23.4,6,9,19,20; 49.30)
(2) Kever (graves) can be plural where Sheol is never plural
(3) Grave is localized but Sheol is accessible anywhere
(4) You can purchase and sell a grave but Sheol can’t be bought and sold
(5) You can own a grave but Sheol cannot be owned
(6) You can choose a grave but you cannot choose Sheol (Gen 23.6)
(7) You can drop a body into the grave but you can’t with Sheol (Gen 50.13)
(8) You can erect a monument over a grave (Gen 35.20) but you can’t with Sheol
(9) You can open and close a grave (2 Kings 23.16)) but you can’t with Sheol
(10) You can touch a grave (Num 19.8) but you can’t touch Sheol
(11) A grave is ritually unclean but Sheol isn’t (can’t go anywhere anyway)
(12) You can enter and leave a grave (2 Kings 23.16) but can’t leave Sheol
(13) You can uncover and remove bodies from a grave (2 Kings 23.16) but not with Sheol
(14) You can beautify a grave (Gen 35.20) but not with Sheol
(15) You can rob and defile a grave (Jer 8.1-2) but can’t with Sheol
(16) A grave can be destroyed but Sheol can’t
(17) A grave can be full but Sheol never (Prov 27.20)
(18) You can see a grave but you can’t see Sheol
(19) You can visit a loved one’s remains at a grave but you can’t with Sheol (Job 17.16; Isa 38.10)
Sheol is “down under the earth” (Job 11.8; Isa 44.23; 57.9; Ezek 26.20; Amos 9.2) and it is not a part of this world so that is why these figures of speech are used. It exists in another dimension. It is a place to reunite with people (Gen 15.15, 25.8, 35.29, 37.35, 49.33; Num 20.24-28, 31.2; Deut 32.50, 34.2; 2 Sam 12.23). This cannot be referring to a mass grave. It had a high and low section (Deut 32.22).
The condition of man in Sheol is a “rephaim” or a disembodied spirit (Job 26.5; Psa 88.10; Prov 2.18; 9.18; 21.16; Isa 14.9; 26.14-19). People can converse and make moral judgments and are conscious there (Isa 14.9-20; 44.23; Ezek 32.21). What you experience in physical life like marriage, business, and a knowledge of the living is not possible in Sheol (Psa 6.5; Ecc 9.10). They experience God’s anger (Deut 32.22).
In the Tanach, the righteous and the wicked went to Sheol and God began to reveal to his people that they would be taken into his presence (Psa 49.15). The Greek word for Sheol is “hades” and in the LXX, Sheol is referred to 71 times, and 64 times it is Hades and the other 7 it uses a translation of other Hebrew words meant to shed light on what Hades is. Not once is Hades equal to the grave, but it is always understood as the abode of the dead.
It does not mean death in Greek (thanatos) or grave (mneema) and does not mean Hell (Gehenna) or Heaven (ouranos). The New Testament picks right up with these concepts in the Tanach. We come to the story in Luke 16.19-31 of Lazarus and the Rich Man. We see there were two compartments, one called “Torments” and the other “Abraham’s Bosom” (where the righteous went before the resurrection of Yeshua). This was a story built around historical characters, which was a common rabbinical teaching technique, using the dialogue method to get across the concept that there is no escape from “Torments” and no second chances.
We must believe the Scriptures (the Torah and the Prophets) in this life. Before the resurrection of Yeshua, believers and unbelievers went to Abraham’s Bosom in Sheol when they died (John 3.13). After the resurrection, believers went to Heaven (2 Cor 5.6-8; Phil 1.23-24; Rev 6.9-11). Yeshua went to Sheol (Acts 2.31; Eph 4.8-10) and he met the thief who died with him there (Luke 23.43= “paradise” was another name for Abraham’s Bosom in Sheol of the righteous).
After the resurrection, paradise was “taken out” of Sheol and made a part of the third heaven (2 Cor 12.2-4). The wicked descend to Sheol and await eternal punishment (2 Pet 2.9). When the day of judgment comes (yom ha din), Sheol will be emptied out and its inhabitants will stand before God (Rev 20.13-15). So, Sheol is a temporary, intermediate state between death and the second resurrection of the wicked. Sheol is without paradise now and it will be “emptied” into the Lake of Fire. In Part 2, we will continue with what the Greek term “hades” means and how the meanings in the New Testament picks up where the Old Testament leaves off. We will also look into “Paradise” and “Gehenna” as well.