Hades, Sheol, and Biblical Logic
There is a common objection made by heretics (link) regarding the factual existence of Hell as a place of damnation for unregenerate souls. It is the tired old argument, “The place called ‘Hell’ in Christendom is the Greek word, ‘hades.’ This is simply the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, ‘sheol’ or simply, ‘grave’.”
Really? Is hades only a translation of sheol? Is sheol merely a physical grave? Since we are discussing subjects with ETERNAL consequences, I think it is quite important that we get this right. So let’s see if that “off the cuff” argument can really hold up under closer examination.
It is my sincere hope that Christians reading this will be strengthened in their apologetic skills; and that those who have been deceived into denying the existence of a fiery place of torment will awaken to the truth BEFORE they find themselves there viewing it first hand.
Before we begin, however, let me define a word will be be revealed within this article as properly applying to the assertion that “there is no Hell” or “there is no damnation.” This particular word is the term “absurd,” and it means:
As an adjective: Utterly or obviously senseless, illogical, or untrue; contrary to all reason or common sense; laughably foolish or false: e.g. an absurd explanation.
As the noun “absurdity”: The quality or condition of existing in a meaningless and irrational world.
In other words, this term refers to the logical condition of a statement or argument. Thus, it would probably be a good idea if we define “logic” as well:
Formal logic (deduction): The branch of philosophy concerned with analyzing the patterns of reasoning by which a conclusion is properly drawn from a set of premises, without reference to meaning or context.
Or to make things a bit more simple for my readers: Logic (and we are discussing the type called “deductive logic” in particular) is the science of reasoning, in that good logic identifies proper relationships between different statements (called propositions), and draws appropriate conclusions supported by those same statements. Together, the premises and conclusion form an argument. The use of this term in regards to logic should not to be confused with a “shouting match” or hostility. A sound “argument” is merely “a process of reasoning” (Dictionary.com), and does not necessarily involve any contention or aggression.
In the study of logic, a properly constructed argument is called “valid” while an improperly constructed argument is termed “invalid.” The term “valid” does not mean that the conclusion is true, but only that the conclusion results necessarily from the propositions upon which it is founded. If the premises are false (i.e. untrue), then a valid argument cannot possibly produce a true conclusion. As we will see shortly, the premises noted above in regard to the translations of “sheol” from the Hebrew into “hades” in the Greek, are false.
Thus, the conclusion that “hades” means only a “grave” is necessarily false as well.
Just like the laws of mathematics were created by God (which laws are considered the most pure form of logic), so are the laws of logic and reasoning (after all…He did make our minds). That is why the Bible often reveals men of God reasoning with people from God’s Word, such as this example of Paul:
So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening.
(Acts 28:23, NKJV)
The Greek word translated as “explained” above is ektithēmi (ἐκτίθημι, Strong’s #1620), which means “to set forth, declare, expound,” while the word translated as “persuading” above is peithō (πείθω, Strong’s #3982), which means “to induce by words to believe” (The source for these Greek word definitions, and those that follow, is Thayer’s Lexicon).
In short, Paul was explaining and reasoning with these Jewish leaders from the Scriptures to demonstrate that Jesus (Yeshua) is the promised Messiah.
Paul was quite adept at reasoning, and especially biblical reasoning. Let me demonstrate that fact by providing you a few other passages about Paul’s use of logic whenever he was found explaining the Scriptures:
Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures…
Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.
And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.
And he came to Ephesus, and left them there; but he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.
And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.
And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.”
But he [Paul] said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason.
(Acts 17:2 and 17; 18:4 and 19; 19:8-9; 24:24-25; 26:25, NKJV, emphasis mine)
In all of the above passages except the last one, the Greek word translated as “reasoning” is dialegomai (διαλέγομαι, Strong’s #1256), which means primarily “to think different things with one’s self, mingle thought with thought; to ponder, resolve in mind.” Paul first had to “reason” from the Scriptures within his own study time BEFORE he could be qualified to “reason” with others about the truth of God. That is why he even exhorted Timothy to, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NKJV). Paul lived that way himself.
However, the use of this Greek word for “reasoning” within the passages above takes on itself the meaning of, “to converse, discourse with one, argue, discuss.” Once Paul had the truths of God’s Word understood properly within his own mind, he could then present logical “reasons” why others should embrace these same truths as he discussed them with people.
However, in the last verse quoted above, the Greek word translated as “reason” is sōphrosynē (σωφροσύνη, Strong’s #4997) which talks about “soundness of mind” and even “self-control, sobriety.” Paul is using this word in contrast to Festus’ accusation that Paul had gone “mad”, which was the Greek word mainomai (μαίνομαι, Strong’s #3105) and means “to be mad, to rave; said of one who so speaks that he seems not to be in his right mind.” So Paul is saying that logical reasoning from the Scriptures gives one “soundness of mind,” and even produces “self-control” and genuine spiritual “sobriety”—even though the worldly-minded will think we have lost our minds. Why? Because the Greek word translated as “truth” in that passage above is alētheia (ἀλήθεια, Strong’s #225), which means “verity, truth…what is true in any matter under consideration.” When discussing weighty things like eternal judgment, the reasonable person will look to God’s Word for absolute truth…and will NOT lean upon the world’s mad philosophies or false religions when their very souls hang in the balance.
Thus, we can set forth the following axiom upon: Reasoning with our God-given minds is certainly appropriate for God-fearing people, so long as we follow God’s created laws of inference (logic) while adhering to the Bible as our primary source of truth by which all conclusions are to be measured. (By the way, heretics typically do neither of these.)
An absurdity, on the other hand, would be some argument or statement made that is not only unreasonable in that it is logically flawed, but it goes so far as to be foolish and beyond “common sense” in the eyes of most observers. In short, it is an obviously untrue statement or conjecture, which any reasonable person will reject once they identify it.
In this article, therefore, I will demonstrate that the particular errant objection that “there is no ‘Hell’ because ‘hades’ merely means ‘the grave'” is both logically flawed and absurd, when considered within its full implications.
Foolish vs. Proper Translations
When someone states “Hades is simply the Greek translation of the Hebrew word sheol, which means simply ‘the grave’,” they have implicitly asserted two very absurd things:
- That the Greek word hades (Strong’s #G86) had absolutely no common usage within the Greek language other than what the translators defined it as.
- That the Hebrew word sheol (Strong’s #H7585) is only interpreted as a physical grave upon the face of the earth (i.e. rather than a metaphor for death, and the resulting destination of the departed soul).
To expose these absurdities, let’s discuss the theory of proper translation from one language into another: A person who speaks one language wants to communicate to a person who only speaks another language that is foreign to the speaker. So he solicits the services of a “translator” who can speak BOTH languages.
Then Person A makes his statements directed toward Person B. The translator then selects the associated words in Person’s B’s language that BEST equate the meaning of the words chosen by the original speaker, and subsequently speaks the message again in Person B’s language. If he does a good job, the same idea that Person A had will be understood by Person B afterwards.
So, for example, the English word “brother” is best translated into Spanish by the word “hermano” (with a silent “h”). The familial concept of a male relative who shares at least one parent with another male relative, is conveyed equally by the words “brother” and “hermano” in the respective languages.
Communication is the point (i.e. goal) of the dialog. The concepts being expressed in one language can ONLY be properly expressed in another language by the selection of an appropriate word that (as much as possible) corresponds with the SAME mental concepts in the second culture. Thus, “I want to speak to your brother” in English, is reasonably well translated as, “Quiero hablar a su hermano” in Spanish.
Would the translator (assuming he or she is a GOOD translator) choose a word that means “cousin” in the second language to communicate the idea of a “brother”? No, of course not. If they did, there would NOT be an accurate translations, and thus, accurate communication is NOT possible.
So look at our Greek word hades and Hebrew word sheol again: If the speaker is TRULY translating the second word (sheol) into Greek, wouldn’t they choose a word which MEANS something in the Greek that is very similar to the idea being expressed by the Hebrew word sheol? Of course! Unless there is NO corresponding word in the other language (which has historically been overcome by adopting a new word in the second language defined by the concepts conveyed in the first), the translator will choose the BEST word (within their ability) to translate and communicate the concept being conveyed.
So here is our question: Was the Greek word, “Hades” used in the Greek language BEFORE the New Testament was written? Yes it was! Was that Greek word used within the Greek society prior to the Old Testament being translated into Greek (which Greek edition is called the Septuagint) back sometime around 250 B.C.? Again, yes.
The Greek word hades had been in use for hundreds of years before the Hebraic Scriptures were translated into Greek (which translation, by the way, was largely responsible for the rapid spread of Christianity because the early Christians could read the Greek translation of the Scriptures). So what did the word hades MEAN in the minds of Greek-speaking people?
1) [The] name Hades or Pluto, the god of the lower regions
2) Orcus, the nether world, the realm of the dead
Thayer’s Lexicon goes on to explain that Orcus was “the infernal regions, a dark and dismal place in the very depths of the earth, the common receptacle of disembodied spirits.” Of course, the word “infernal” is derived from a Latin word meaning “lower” or “hell” and which has its counterpart “inferno” to denote a raging fire. So in short, the Greek culture (and later the Roman) had a concept of a fiery place of torment in the center of the earth, to which most people who died went and suffered unspeakable torment. It was ruled over by a “god” named Hades or Pluto, and was unquestionably a place that ANYBODY wanted to avoid going to…if they could.
New Testament Usage
So do we have ANY use of this Greek word hades in the New Testament (NT) which seems to be similar to this pre-existing Greek concept of a place of fiery damnation in the center of the earth? As a matter of fact, we do. And these are from the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself, no less:
“So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
“Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.'”
(Luke 16:22-24, NKJV, emphasis mine)
But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
(Matthew 12:39-40, NKJV)
The Greek word translated “heart” above is kardia (from which we get the word “cardiac”), and it metaphorically means “center.” We use the English word “heart” the same way today when we say things like, “I want to get to the heart of the matter.” Thus, Jesus located where He was going as not being merely a grave (i.e. upon the surface of the earth) but into the heart (center) of the earth…the same EXACT spot where the use of hades in the Gospel of Luke would have indicated to His Greek-speaking hearers that day.
In short, Luke was explaining EXACTLY where Jesus was going to go for three days and nights in the passage above, in a way that communicated EXACTLY that same concept to His Greek-speaking readers. Matthew’s account also confirms that fact nicely.
Hell-Deniers Are Refuted
Thus, by simply looking at the words being used, and thinking “soberly, with sound minds” through biblical reasoning, we have discovered that the heretics who claim that “there is no Hell” are soundly refuted by the words of Jesus Himself. These statements of the Lord were not “metaphors,” but exact statements that would have been understood only ONE WAY to those who read the original Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Thus, the absurdity of such denial should be clear to anyone who has the least respect for the Bible as God’s infallible Word.
However, here are also a few passages from the Old Testament that clearly support the thesis of this article, and demonstrate that the Hebraic concept of “sheol” had (in some passages) connotations that were well beyond those of a mere grave:
Jealousy is as severe as Sheol; Its flashes are flashes of fire, The very flame of the LORD.
(Song of Solomon 8:6, NASB)
For a fire is kindled in My anger, And burns to the lowest part of Sheol, And consumes the earth with its yield, And sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.
(Deuteronomy 32:22, NASB)
…There are three things that will not be satisfied, four that will not say, “Enough”: Sheol, and the barren womb, Earth that is never satisfied with water, and fire that never says, “Enough.”
(Proverbs 30:15-16, NASB)
The pains of death surrounded me, And the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me; I found trouble and sorrow.
(Psalm 116:3, NKJV)
Consequently, Jewish people who were listening to Jesus discuss these things were QUITE aware of the theological concept of a place of fiery damnation. The Greek concept of hades was certainly NOT unique (but it was somewhat distorted conceptually from the actual reality of the place as revealed by the Bible). In fact, the reason that the Greeks KNEW of such a place was because eternal things (such as damnation) are known in the hearts of all human beings:
He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.
(Ecclesiastes 3:11b, NASB)
…for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.
(Romans 2:14-16, NKJV)
All men have the same Creator, to Whom they MUST give an account. Thus, it is reasonable to understand that the Greeks knew where they were going, and thus, had such a concept worked into their mythologies.
Lastly, a thorough study of the word “pit” in conjunction with the Hebrew word “sheol” in the Old Testament will show that they are very often closely connected. Together, they once again indicate a place MUCH deeper than any grave upon the surface of the earth.
For the details on this question, and the ONLY answer that solves it, let me please direct you to the most important article on this entire website: The Supreme Value of Righteousness. Therein, you and I can have a friendly chat about eternal things, and see what can be done to ensure that hades is never found to be in your future. So I am really looking forward to that chat. I’ll see you over there at that post. 🙂
Lastly: Are you interested in learning more about logic and biblical reasoning? Then let me recommend that you spend some time studying that particular sub-page of our new Recommendations section, which entitled Logic, Apologetics, and Evangelism.
Always in Jesus,