HADES THE PLACE OF THE DEAD
PHILIP SCHAFF, D.D.
Notwithstanding the amount of distinct revelation, the whole subject of Hades is obscured to the reader of the English Version of the Bible by the erroneous rendering of the Hebrew term Sheol and its Greek equivalent Hades. These words which in the original Scriptures have a fixed and definite meaning, indicating a place in the Unseen World distinct from both Heaven and Hell [the lake of fire] (regarded as the place of final punishment), are constantly rendered by either grave or Hell. By this mistranslation an idea proper to the Word of God is completely blotted out from the English Version; and, not only so, but the texts which present that idea are distributed amongst those which set forth two entirely distinct ideas - thus obscuring the teachings of Scripture concerning both the grave and Hell [Hades]. But the obscuring and confusing influence of this erroneous translation does not terminate upon those who study only the English Version. The first and most enduring conceptions of the doctrines of Scripture are derived from the Version we read in childhood - conceptions which, even when false, subsequent study often fails to eradicate. And beyond this, every Version, especially the one in common use, is, to a certain extent, a Commentary, and as such exerts a powerful influence over the minds of students of the original Scriptures. Had the word Hades been reproduced in our Version, much of the confusion that now embarrasses this subject could never have found existence.
As to the mode of the investigation conducted in this study, all the passages in which Hades occurs were tabulated and compared together with the view of determining whether, consistently with the contextual requirements of each, some uniform meaning might not be given to the term. The experiment was successful beyond most sanguine expectation. It resulted in the conviction that by Hades is designated (1) not the grave; (2) not Hell; (3) not the Unseen World, including Heaven and Hell; (4) not the state of death: (5) but - (a) a place in the Unseen World distinct from both Heaven and Hell; (b) having two compartments - one of comfort, the other of misery.
Hades is spoken of with expressions of comparison utterly inconsistent with the idea of the literal grave. Thus we read of - "The lowest Hades" (Deut. 32: 22; Psa. 86: 13) "the depths of Hades" (Prov. 9: 18 ); "the midst of Hades" (Ezek. 32: 21). It is in two instances clearly distinguished from the grave. In Gen. 37: 35, where it first appears in the Bible, Jacob declares- "I will go down into Hades unto my son"; but from verse 33 we learn that the Patriarch was under the impression that Joseph [as regarding his body] had not, and could not have, a grave; he is there represented as exclaiming, "An evil beast hath devoured him." And in Isaiah 14: 15 it is declared that Lucifer shall be "brought down to Hades," who, verse 19, is represented as being "cast out of his grave." It is used in antithesis with Heaven under circumstances which show that the literal grave cannot be intended. "It is as high as Heaven, what canst thou do? deeper than Hades, what canst thou know?" (Job 11: 8). "If I ascend up into Heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in Hades, behold, thou art there " (Psa. 139: 8). "Though they dig into Hades, thence shall mine hand take them: though they climb up to Heaven, thence will I bring them down" (Amos 9: 2).
The New Testament idea of Hades as distinct from the grave may be most clearly perceived in the declaration concerning Dives in Luke 16: 23; and in the didactic teaching of the Apostle Peter (Acts 2: 27-31) concerning the soul of Jesus between His death and His resurrection.* The Apostle, manifestly, spoke of both the body and the soul of our Lord (comp. verses 27 and 31, asserting that the former did not see corruption (although it was placed in a sepulchre) and that the latter was not left in Hades - implying, of course, that it went to Hades. Unless we adopt the conclusion that the soul sleeps with the dead body in the tomb - in the face of the manifest implications of the Apostle and the whole tenor of the Word of God - Hades must be distinct from the tomb.
[* The soul is the person, and the body is the tent or the flesh of the soul; and, most important of all, the spirit from God, gives life to both body and soul. The spirit leaves the body and returns to God at the time of death: As the body without the spirit is dead ]
The underlying thought in the Lord's narrative of Dives seems to be that Hades is a world to which the spirits *[souls] of all the dead are consigned, having two compartments - one of comfort, and the other of misery - separated by an impassable gulf or chasm, but within speaking distance of each other. That our Lord did not intend to represent Lazarus as in Heaven seems to be evident. The place of his abode is not styled Heaven, but Abraham's bosom;*- he is not represented as being carried up to it (the general form of expression when Heaven is the terminus), he is simply carried; it is within speaking distance of Dives, being separated from him only by a chasm - but Heaven and Hades are represented as being poles apart: It is as high as Heaven - deeper than Hades (Job 11: 8) its central figure is not God, but Abraham. God is not there in His glory, nor angels save as ministers of transportation; it is not represented as a place of perfect bliss - Lazarus is merely comforted - a term never used in descriptions of the blessedness of Heaven. The hypothesis that Jesus contemplated Lazarus as in Hades not only gives force and consistency to the whole narrative, but is directly in accordance with the natural interpretation of the brief and scattered teachings of the Old Testament concerning the abode of the righteous dead.
[* The narrative itself suggests the idea that the phrase Abrahams Bosom might have been a Jewish name for the place of departed souls.]
It is a well known fact that there are two words in the Greek Testament which in the English Version are rendered Hell - Hades and Ghenna. Our Lord is represented as employing the former of these only three times - in reference to the humiliation of Capernaum (Matt. 11: 23; Luke 10: 15); to the deliverance of the Church from its power (Matt. 16: 18); and to the imprisonment of the disembodied spirit*[soul] of Dives (Luke 16: 23). When he uttered His fearful threatenings concerning the casting of both body and soul into Hell, into unquenchable fire, the term employed by him was Gehenna; see Matt. 5: 22, 29, 30; 10: 28; 18: 9; 23: 15, 33; Mark 9: 43-47; Luke 12: 5.
Directly in line with the teachings thus developed are those of the Apostles. Peter and Jude (2 Pet. 2: 4; Jude 6) agree in declaring that the angels who kept not their first estate are "reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day." Are they not in the pit of the abyss (with the exception of those permitted for a season to come forth with their leader), reserved for that awful day when, with Satan, they shall be cast into that everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels? The "everlasting destruction" threatened in 2 Thess. 1: 9, is to be inflicted after Jesus has come in flaming fire taking vengeance - after His advent for judgment. Until that time also, when "the Lord cometh with ten, thousand of His saints to execute judgment upon all," "is reserved the blackness of darkness forever" which the Apostle Jude teaches us is reserved for the ungodly, Jude 11-15. That the ungodly are in Hades all admit, but they are not yet in their place of final and everlasting* punishment - they are not yet in Hell [the lake of fire].
[Note. The word everlasting (Gk. aionios) should also be translated age-lasting where the context indicates. See Heb. 5: 9.]
The Hades of the good is not Heaven.
This is evident from the following considerations:
(1) God, angels, Jesus Christ (save during the time between His death and resurrection), are never represented as abiding therein. This is scarce explicable on the hypothesis that Hades is a general term for the Unseen World. It may be said, however, that the term is employed only in reference to the spirits *[souls] of deceased men. This answer, it will be observed, exceedingly limits the hypothesis we are considering.
(2) Hades, as an entirety, is distinguished from Heaven. This is done in two distinct modes. (a) By being placed in antithesis therewith, as in Job 11: 8 - "It is as high as Heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than Hades; what canst thou know?" See also Psa. 139: 8; Amos 9: 2. (b) By being localized as beneath the surface of the earth. Thus it is described by the synonym "nether parts of the earth"; and approach to it is universally described as a descent - thus (Num. 16: 33) Korah and his company are described as going "down alive into Hades" through the opening earth. (3) Not only is the idea of situation beneath the earth presented when the wicked are spoken of, but also when the entrance thereinto of the righteous is described. Not only is it declared that Korah and his company "went down alive into (the pit) Hades"; but, also, Jacob exclaimed (Gen. 37: 35), - "I will go down into Hades unto my son..." Not only did Saul ask the witch of Endor "to bring up Samuel" (1 Sam. 28: 8), thus testifying to the popular belief as to the descent of the spirits *[i.e., disembodied souls] of the good; and not only did the terrified woman exclaim (verse 13) "I saw gods ascending out of the earth," but the spirit* of Samuel (unquestionably his spirit * raised, not by the incantations of the woman, but by the power of God) is represented as saying to the King (verse 15) "Why hast thou disquieted me to bring me up?" Of Elijah [and Enoch] alone of all the Old Testament saints it is said that he ascended, and of him alone it is said that he went into Heaven. - [This could not have been the highest Heaven - the throne of God. See John 3: 13.]. Unquestionably, the idea of the Hades of the good presented in the Old Testament, is that of a subterranean place distinct from Heaven. In strict accordance with the uses loquendi of the Old Testament, our Lord when He referred to His own abiding in Hades spoke of it as remaining "three days and nights in the heart of the earth" (Matt. 12: 40); and the Apostle Paul in referring to the same event (Eph. 4: 9) wrote of Jesus as "descending into the lower parts of the earth" - a well-established Old Testament synonym for Hades.
The real grounds of the opinion that Hades is a state, and not a place, are, as it seems to the writer, philosophical and theological, and not exegetical. There are those whose psychological views cause them to shrink from any localization of a pure spirit * and who, therefore, affirm that Hades must indicate a state. The same views, it may be remarked, should lead, and in many cases do lead, to the affirmation that the terms Heaven and Hell are indicative, not of places, but of mere conditions of the soul. Another ground is what may be styled the pseudo-scientific. It seems plain that if the language of Scripture is to be interpreted normally, the location of Hades is in the heart of the earth. There are many who shrink from this opinion as though it must be false. Why false? If Hades be a place, it must be somewhere; and if somewhere, why not in the centre of the earth as well as elsewhere? True Science, which confesses its ignorance concerning the internal condition of our globe, can, on this question, neither affirm nor deny.
[* It is true to say there are spirits in Hades. However, these angelic creatures and are not disembodied human souls.
It would appear also that there are those described as spirits in prison. These are described as the Nephilim or giants (Gen. 6.), who were judged in the flesh like men, they might live in the spirit like God (1 Pet. 4: 6). They were born as a result of intercourse between the sons of God (angels), and the daughters of men. These may have be the spirits in prison, preached to by Christ/Messiah before His resurrection, (2 Pet. 3: 19, 20).]