Now, we want to see if we can understand why this term was not always translated into English in the same way at each and every occurrence. In our first post, we found that hell and grave were the most common translations with a few also translated as pit, death, and depth. Why was this?
When one looks more closely, it would appear in most cases, the word “grave” was used when referring to the righteous and “hell” was used when referring to the wicked. The purpose here may have been to highlight that the righteous and wicked did not have the same fate. However, this now puts two different Hebrew words translated as “grave” in English. Hebrew has a different word for grave and never interchanged the meaning with Sheol. The grave was always a place in the physical world for the body and never implied a place for the soul. Therefore, clarity in one area created confusion in another.
The term “pit” almost always referred to the place of the wicked and typically implied the wicked were below those of the righteous. This denoted a place of inferiority and a separate and distinct place. This is different from the term “Abyss” which we will get to in a future post.
One of the other controversial spots in scripture has been the story Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). Some claim this was a parable and we shouldn’t take it as a true story, so the idea of torment in hell should not be taken too literally. Others claim this is the only place in the Bible which supports such a tenet and we should therefore not link doctrine to this one area. There are others which claim is was true and, therefore, we must believe all aspects of the story. Who’s right?
We need to understand that even the parables Jesus gave were based upon fact with only the story itself being fiction. Places and events were literal and/or possible/believable. The same would be true here. Not all true stories Jesus told had named characters (e.g., Mk 10:17; Lk 14:1), so we shouldn’t quibble over whether it was or was not a parable. Both contained truth. We also saw in the last two posts that the Old Testament was not devoid of punishment of the wicked in Sheol, and did support different places within Sheol for the righteous compared to the wicked. Therefore, this story told by Jesus was supportive, and not against, other scripture.
In this story, Jesus used the Greek term ‘Hades’ which was the same as ‘Sheol’ in the Old Testament. Therefore, Jesus was describing the same Sheol as the Jews of that day believed in at the time. In addition, Jesus was criticized for many things, but nowhere in scripture did the Jewish leaders of the day mention he had stated anything about the afterlife they did also not believe.
There were other terms mentioned in the New Testament translated as ‘hell.’ One, Gehenna, was one that Jesus himself mentioned many times. This term is totally different from the term ‘Hades’ he used in the passage above. Next time, we’ll investigate this term and see what it implies and why Jesus said so much about it.
Recap on Hell
Not So Easy a Transition