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Heaven, Hell, Sheol, Hades, and popular confusion

Heaven, Hell, Sheol, Hades, and popular confusion

Postby Si » Wed May 24, 2017 8:55 pm

Recently I acquired a copy of Steve's book on Hell. I have not read it yet, so I am not sure if Steve covered the information I am about to discuss. Either way, I have some thoughts regarding both heaven and hell, and the popular vs. Biblical understandings of the afterlife. I'm trying to sort out all this information in my mind, and it would help to have a discussion.

As we all know, popular culture has a tendency to greatly oversimplify things. The popular culture concept of the afterlife is, if you attain salvation, you get to spend eternity in Heaven. Heaven is in a sense in the sky or the cosmos, and is celestial bliss. You exist in some sort of spiritual state. In the Biblical sense, the eternal state of the believer is in a resurrected, incorruptible body on a renewed earth. What people think of popularly as Heaven may be better thought of as the intermediate state after death, but before the resurrection.

The pop culture view on eternal Hell is that it is below the earth. There is fire and torment and gloom and doom. The Biblical understanding of the eternal state of the damned is in the lake of fire, or outer darkness. Some say Gehenna is the same as the lake of fire, but some disagree. The pop culture view may be more properly understood also as an intermediate state, Sheol or Hades. Biblically, the lost are resurrected from Hades, Judged, and thrown into the lake of fire.

So what we have in both cases is popular culture mistaking the intermediate states before the judgement for the eternal states. What strikes me as so strange about all this, is that the original meaning of the word "Hell" in English is the underworld, the realm of the dead, and is a direct parallel to Sheol or Hades. Just like when the Jews translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek, they took the Greek word for the realm of the dead, "Hades", so when the Bible was translated into English, they took the Anglo-Saxon word for the realm of the dead, Hell. Before converting to Christianity, the Anglo-Saxons, who would later be called the English, believed in a realm of the dead, much like the Greek pagans, and they called it Hell.

All modern Bibles that I know of transliterate Sheol and Hades, and translate Gehenna as "Hell". In regards to the confusion on Hell, I have heard many scholars blame this on the fact that the KJV "incorrectly" translates Sheol and Hades into the English, "Hell", and that only Gehenna should be translated into "Hell". But like I discussed in the previous paragraph, this was originally the correct translation! It not the KJV that is to blame, it is the cultural understanding and definition of the word "Hell" that changed over time. Finally, the NKJV, NASB, ESV, CSB, and NIV translate Tartarus as "Hell", but if the Angels who sinned are cast down and "reserved for judgement", for consistency sake, shouldn't it either be transliterated, or else translated into "Hades"? I thought modern Bibles only want "Hell" to refer to final, eternal judgement, not an intermediate state?

So like I said, I am trying to sort all of this doctrine and history out in my mind, so I'd appreciate correction if I made a mistake, and I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this topic!
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Re: Heaven, Hell, Sheol, Hades, and popular confusion

Postby steve » Thu May 25, 2017 9:58 am

You are right about the background of these words. I disagree with the use of the English "hell" for any of the Greek words. Although the original word hell, in old Anglo Saxon may have been essentially equivalent for the Hebrew sheol and the Greek hades, the English word, in the intervening centuries, has come (mistakenly) to be used generally as the term for the final state of the damned after the judgment. For this concept, only "the lake of fire" (Rev.20:15), or "everlasting [aionios] fire" (Matt.25:41), serves as biblical terminology.

I do not think that even gehenna is a good match for "hell." Among rabbis, gehenna was used as the negative consequences suffered by the lost for 12 months, after death (followed by either annihilation or restoration). In their thinking, it seems to have been the state of the lost after death, which sounds more like the flames of hades, in Luke 16:19ff.

However, the proper translation of gehenna is "the valley of Hinnom," a place outside Jerusalem, which Jeremiah spoke of as the place where corpses would be piled as a result of the conquest of Jerusalem. I think Jesus used the term in the same manner as did Jeremiah, and it has no connection with hell in the afterlife.
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Re: Heaven, Hell, Sheol, Hades, and popular confusion

Postby Si » Thu May 25, 2017 10:36 am

steve wrote:You are right about the background of these words. I disagree with the use of the English "hell" for any of the Greek words. Although the original word hell, in old Anglo Saxon may have been essentially equivalent for the Hebrew sheol and the Greek hades, the English word, in the intervening centuries, has come (mistakenly) to be used generally as the term for the final state of the damned after the judgment. For this concept, only "the lake of fire" (Rev.20:15), or "everlasting [aionios] fire" (Matt.25:41), serves as biblical terminology.


I agree we can't resurrect the original meaning of Hell for the realm of the dead, so we're bound to use words as they're understood today. I'm fine with transliterating these words. How do you think "outer darkness" fits into all of this?

steve wrote:I do not think that even gehenna is a good match for "hell." Among rabbis, gehenna was used as the negative consequences suffered by the lost for 12 months, after death (followed by either annihilation or restoration). In their thinking, it seems to have been the state of the lost after death, which sounds more like the flames of hades, in Luke 16:19ff.

However, the proper translation of gehenna is "the valley of Hinnom," a place outside Jerusalem, which Jeremiah spoke of as the place where corpses would be piled as a result of the conquest of Jerusalem. I think Jesus used the term in the same manner as did Jeremiah, and it has no connection with hell in the afterlife.


Right, the translators are advocating their personal theology in translating as Hell. It would be better to transliterate, or translate as you have suggested, and let the text speak for itself, and let the reader interpret.

What are your thoughts on translation or transliteration of Tartarus? Plain reading of the passage seems to me to suggest connection with Hades.
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Re: Heaven, Hell, Sheol, Hades, and popular confusion

Postby Singalphile » Thu May 25, 2017 7:03 pm

steve wrote:For [the term for the final state of the damned after the judgment], only "the lake of fire" (Rev.20:15), or "everlasting [aionios] fire" (Matt.25:41), serves as biblical terminology.


Not to quibble, but shouldn't that be "the everlasting [aionios] fire"? Jesus is always recorded as using the definite article before "everlasting fire" (2 of 2). Jude 1:7 uses "everlasting/eternal fire" without the definite article, but he is not (apparently) referring to "the eternal fire".

Not that it makes much difference or proves anything, but if we're going to stick as close as we can to biblical terminology ....

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