- Category: A Hell of a Question
Theme Text– ‘O that thou wouldest hide me in SHEOL’ (Job 14:13)
1) What really is hell in the Old Testament?
Translators of the King James Bible rendered the Hebrew word SHEOL (65 occurrences) as below words in English -
1) grave (31 times)/ pit (3 times)
2) hell (31 times)
They translated SHEOL as grave/pit when it was to be the resting place for good people, but rendered the same word as hell when referring to a bad person.
2) Could we look at a couple of examples?
* ‘O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave [SHEOL]... until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!’ (Job 14:12-13) Here, upright Job pleads God to hide from his pain in SHEOL - to wait asleep until the day of the resurrection. It sure would be bizarre for anyone to pray to God to be sent to hell! So translators used the word grave.
* But in Psalm 86:13, we see the same translators translating the same SHEOL as hell because it’s used in a negative sense -‘Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell [SHEOL]’.
Scholars see this as a grave error - or rather a hell of an error, should we say? – on the translators’ part.
Grave is the right word in all cases. Any Hebrew expert would confirm SHEOL is grave/pit.
3) So what kind of place is SHEOL?
The Bible actually describes SHEOL! It’s portrayed not as a place of torture, but quite the opposite:
- SHEOL is not a place of raging fire. It’s rather a state of darkness (Job 10:21).
- It’s not a place of agony or suffering. But rather in each case, the context describes SHEOL as a place or condition of silence (Psalm 115:17; 88:11-12).
- Yes, ‘There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, in the grave [SHEOL] whither thou goest’ (Eccl 9:10).
4) The New Testament is in Greek. What about hell in its books? What’s Greek for SHEOL?
The Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) renders SHEOL as HADES. The New Testament writers confirm that.
For eg: Acts 2:27 NASB, ‘You will not abandon my soul to HADES’
It’s a quotation from Psalm 16:10 NASB, ‘You will not abandon my soul to SHEOL’.
- In 1Corinthians 15:54-55, "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave [HADES], where is thy victory?" (This too is a reference to SHEOL from Hosea 13:14).
- The same translators who rendered HADES properly as grave in1Cor. 15:55 let their bias mislead them to mistranslate the same HADES as hell in verses like Luke 10:15 (ten such occurrences in total).
‘And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell [HADES]’.
5) Why were these English translators biased - mistranslating the same word into different things?
KJV, one of the first translations was done in 1611 AD. By then, pagan hell theories had settled into Christianity over the course of the Dark Ages (more on the history later) and the translators believed in them. That bias made them mistranslate, even as their scholarly minds knew SHEOL/HADES clearly meant GRAVE.
This bias affected other English translations in varying degrees, based on the level of integrity of the translators.
Some reputed translations (YLT, Weymouth, Rotherham’s etc.) avoided any bias. Not even once does the word hell appear in them.