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Sheol, Hades, and Paradise

Frederick William Grant

Facts and Theories as to a Future State

We are now to consider what is indeed but a secondary point, but one which will help to give completeness to this sketch of the scripture doctrine of the soul's immortality. The word "hades" (hell, Auth. vers.) is found, as we have already seen, in the story of Lazarus and the rich man. The representative of the word in the Old Testament is sheol. "Paradise" is found in the Lord's reply to the dying thief, and in 2 Cor. xii., where Paul tells us he knew a man in Christ caught up into Paradise .

The interpretation of these words by the materialistic section of annihilationist writers is pretty uniform. Hades, they say (and of course sheol), is the grave.* Paradise, for most, the place of blessing on the restored earth; necessarily, therefore, having nothing to do with an intermediate state, nor existing at present, for a man to be caught up into. Mr. Constable and others, no doubt, dissent from this in favour of its being a place in heaven, in this more Scriptural than those they hail as co-workers in this cause.

*Mr. Constable does not contend for this absolutely, but still hades for him has to do with the body, as we shall see.

To begin with sheol. It is a word apparently derived from shaal, "to ask," and is generally supposed to derive its meaning from the insatiate way in which death continually "demands" its victims. Some have, however, suggested, what seems at least as probable, that it is derived rather from the "questioning" as to the dead, as in Job xiv. 10: "man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?"

Sheol is acknowledged to be the equivalent of hades, and its significance seems, from the only probable derivation, to be the "unseen," - the invisible world, as people sometimes say. It applies undoubtedly in ordinary Greek to the region of departed spirits, an application with which the Pharisaic use coincides, as the treatise ascribed to Josephus bears witness, whether it be his or not: and to this the Biblical use in Luke xvi (even to the term "Abraham's bosom") exactly corresponds. Now we have seen that not only was it impossible for the Lord to adopt without remark a mere superstitious and pagan notion, but that Paul also professed himself a Pharisee on kindred points. From this persuasion no denunciation of heathenism or of Pharisaism is of any force to turn us. Neither the one nor the other was all untrue, and Pharisaism was at least more orthodox than the Sadduceisrn to which in many points the annihilationist belief conforms.

That "hades" should have a wider application than this, is no wonder from what we here seen to be its meaning. But although it might be used in other connections figuratively, in relation to man it has one very uniform sense. That sense is never the grave, as they allege, although the imagery of the grave may very naturally be applied to it. It is nevertheless demonstrably distinct and stands in the same relation to the soul as the grave to the body. The common coupling together of "death and hades" illustrates this, for in such a conjunction as "death and hades delivered up the dead that were in them" (Rev. xx. 13), death naturally stands connected with the lifeless corpse, as hades (the unseen) does with the soul or spirit. So similarly the quotation as to the Lord in Acts ii. 27, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hades," refers to the soul, as "neither wilt Thou suffer Thy holy One to see corruption" does to the body: and the apostle Peter distinguishes them accordingly in his interpretation: "his soul was not left in hades, neither his flesh did see corruption."

This accounts for eight out of the eleven passages in which hades is found in the New Testament. That in Matt. xvi. presents no difficulty. It is borrowed very likely from Isa. xxxviii. 10, where the "gates of the grave" should be rather "the gates of sheol." The two remaining passages are really one: "Thou, Capernaum , shall be brought down to hades." Here the word is used tropically.

The use of sheol, though similar, is somewhat more obscure. This results from the character of the Old Testament, which has been noted and accounted for. It is quite natural that materialists should use it for their purposes, as they do, although after all with very poor success. Psa. xvi. 10 we have seen quoted and applied by the apostle. Jacob speaks of going down to sheol to his son Joseph;* and this has singularly little force, if a going down to nonentity. If we compare David's words of his child similarly, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me,"† this is greatly strengthened.

*Gen. xxxvxii 35

†2 Sam. xii. 23

Then we have such expressions as the "depths of sheol" (Prov. ix. 18), "the lowest sheol" (Psa. lxxxvi. 13, Deut. xxxii. 22), - in the last passage God's wrath being said to burn to it, - "though they dig into sheol" (Amos. ix. 2), which show that the grave cannot be the whole matter there. So even in sheol (Psa. cxxxix. 8) there is no escape from the presence of God: "if I make my bed in sheol, behold, Thou art there!" Can that be nonentity?

Surely we may be excused then from following very closely the dissertations of those who have learnedly endeavoured to prove that sheol is the abode of dead sheep, of men's bones, and of weapons of war! For the first statement there is one passage produced, Psa. xlix. 14: "Like sheep they are laid in sheol;" as Delitzsch expresses it, "they are made to lie down in sheol, like sheep in a fold." This one comparison of the wicked lying down in sheol like a flock of sheep, Mr. Constable thinks sufficient to show, "to the astonishment and disgust of our Platonic divines and thinkers, that beasts go on death to hades"!

In the same way, Psa. cxli. 7, "Our bones are scattered at the mouth of sheol," is made to assure us that "the bones of the dead are consigned in death to hades!" The psalmist plainly says they are outside.*

*"Their souls below, their bones above," as Delitzsch well says.

By others the imagery of Ezek. xxxii. 27 is pleaded to show that people go down to sheol with their weapons of war, and their swords laid under their heads! Nay, if Jacob speaks of bringing his grey hairs down in sorrow to sheol, we are bound to believe that sheol is the abode of grey hairs also! So Korah and his company go down alive into sheol, the earth swallowing them up alive; and this is proof conclusive that men's bodies go to hades! We have only to remember the vagueness of a term like "the unseen," to see how little we have here the formal doctrine they would draw from it.

Time fails us to pursue these phantoms, and yet of such sort is the reasoning found in the most elaborate performances of leaders of this school. Mr. Constable's two chapters or Hades in his treatise bearing that name, are the weakest and most inconclusive in it. And he seems in measure conscious of it by his anxiety to import into them all his prior arguments as to the nature of man, personality, death, etc., arguments that we have already sufficiently considered. We on the other hand may more reasonably believe that the consciousness of the intermediate state has been fully and independently established by the texts we have examined. And while, if soul is body, hades must of course be some equivalent of the grave, and if it be mere "animal life," hades may be extinction, if on the other hand the soul be a living entity separate from the mere bodily organism; there can be no question that it is not the first; there need be none, that it is not the other. But we have yet an argument or two of Mr. Constable's to consider.

Thus he complains that we make hades "a land of life" by making it the receptacle of men's souls after death. I can only say, we do not ordinarily judge it to be so. In this sense I mean, that although it be true that the spirits of the dead are living, they are nevertheless the spirits of the dead; and we necessarily and rightly speak of hades as the abode of the dead. To us they are the dead: though not extinct; and to God they live. It is not a fact that we find any difficulty in a use of language which perplexes Mr. Constable. It is writers of his class who having invented a new language for us would fain persuade us it is what we have been ignorantly using all along.

The only thing that might be judged a real difficulty as to hades we shall consider after we have briefly looked at the third term, " Paradise ."

The greatest importance that the word has in this connection is from our Lord's use of it in His reply to the dying thief: "Verily I say unto thee, to-day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise ."

The common method of dealing with this text is by altering the punctuation. They would have us read the words, "Verily I say unto thee today: thou shalt be with me in Paradise." That is, "today, this day of my humiliation, I say to thee." But the order of the words in the sentence is all against them. With the emphasis they give it, "today" should precede the verb. As compare in the Greek, Matt. xvi. 3; Mark xiv. 30; Luke xix. 5, 9; Acts xiii 33; Heb. iii. 7, 15. But, beside this, the Lord is answering a prayer in which a time wherein the thief sought to be remembered was expressed. He had said, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom." The Lord says virtually, "You shall not wait for that: to-day you shall be with Me." This is the simple, intelligible reason for the specification of time: "Today," not when I come merely, "shalt thou be with me in Paradise ."

Seeing this, others would render "in that day," or (as for instance Mr. Constable) more exactly," this day," but meaning, "the day of which you have spoken."

Mr. Constable believes we cannot dispute his right to translate it thus, and he quotes Parkhurst and Schleusner to that effect. We have no quarrel with the lexicographers on this point,* but must contend nevertheless that their witness is insufficient. For while the word may well be rendered "this day," it cannot be as referring to a day not present when the word is spoken. In this way it is the exact equivalent of our word" today," which we know is incapable of such use. Let Mr. Constable produce, if he can, the passage which would bear this construction.†

(*Although Liddell and Scott, as high authorities, demur to s or t at the beginning of the word having anything to do with the article and for a very satisfactory reason, that "the word is Homeric, and therefore prior to the usage of the article." They only give the meaning "to-day," to which Dawson 's Lexicon adds, "this very day."

†Dr. Thomas' reading is perhaps the strangest, and I mention it only as a proof of the perplexity into which writers of this class are thrown by the passage. "‘Today' is a Scripture term, and must be explained by the Scripture use of it. In the Sacred Writings, then, the term is used to express a period of over 2,000 years. This use of it occurs in David, as it is written, ‘Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, lest ye enter not into my rest.' The apostle, commenting on this passage about 1,000 years after it was written, says, "Exhort one another while it is called today".... Thus it was called today when David wrote, and today when Paul commented on it... This today is however limited both to Jew and Gentile; and in defining this limitation Paul tells us, that today means ‘after so long a time.'

If then we substitute the apostle's definition for the word ‘today' in Christ's reply to the thief, it will read thus: ‘Verily I say to thee, after so long a time thou shalt be with me in Paradise ' " (Elpis Israel, pp. 51, 55).

But he is evidently afraid that will not answer, and so is careful to give other interpretations of the passage, even though contradictory of this.)

Mr. C. seems evidently not easy himself about this conclusion. He vacillates between this construction, and his strange idea of "synchronism." He thinks it may well be after all that "today" might really mean so, because "to the sleeper in death's arms there is no time," and having expired before the end of that Jewish day, "the last half-hour [of it] the penitent thief will spend with his King in His kingdom, for it is there he takes up the thread of time once more."

That is, "today" may mean two thousand years hence or so, if only you can get the "sleeper in death's arms" to sleep quietly enough to be unconscious of the interval!

Mr. Roberts agrees with the former of these two assertions, that "today" means "this day" - the day of Christ's coming. And he is one of a class of writers who urge that Paradise is in the new earth, and therefore not yet in existence, which of course would dispose of the passage effectually as far as applies to any teaching concerning an intermediate state. Mr. Constable too urges that we falsify the Scripture teaching as to Paradise. I shall therefore briefly state what it furnishes about it.

"Paradise" is an Eastern word for a "park" or" pleasure-grounds." The Hebrew, pardes is only used, Neh. ii. 8; Eccl ii. 5; Sol. Song iv. 13. It is there translated once "forest," twice "orchard." It is not used for the garden of Eden in Hebrew, but there it is the ordinary word, qan , for "garden." The Septuagint translation, however, gives here (paradise), which is uniformly the word it uses for the Garden of Eden, or of God, except in one place where the usual word for garden is used. From the Septuagint use of the word the New Testament use is doubtless derived. It does not follow, however, that it will have exactly the same application. Rather, we shall find, the Old Testament word becomes in it, as commonly such words do, transfigured into a higher meaning. The Old Testament type becomes the New Testament antitype: the "shadow of good things to come" emerges into the substantive reality. It is used but three times: -

Luke xxiii. 43. - "To-day thou shalt be with me in Paradise ."

2 Cor. xii. 4. - "How that he was caught up into Paradise ."

Rev. ii. 7. - "The tree of life which is in the midst of the Paradise of God."

In the last of these passages the mention of the tree of life connects itself plainly with the after account of the heavenly Jerusalem, which is therefore at least not the new earth, however related to it it may be. Nor does this in the least deny the earthly promises produced by Roberts. Each have their place, but those he quotes are distinctly those belonging to Israel nationally, as the apostle of the Gentiles tells us (Rom. ix. 3). Our blessings are "in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. i. 3); and of these the earthly ones are but the shadow. Mr. Roberts calls this an unproved assertion. It is, however, as definitely certain as can be, and without understanding it there can be no proper understanding of the promises at all. We shall devote a chapter to this point hereafter, and therefore may leave it now.

The second passage speaks of paradise as existing, now, for Paul was caught away into it, - I have no wish to retain the "up" if Mr. Roberts objects, - and whether in the body or out of it he could not tell, even at the time he wrote. Manifestly, if he supposed he could be caught away bodily into it, he supposed it to be an existing place, and the plea that it was a vision will not answer. The "visions" doubtless refer to what he saw there.

To this Roberts answers that Paul might have supposed Paradise "made actually existent for the occasion of his inspection." The restored earth actually existent for Paul to see. It is a trite remark that faith is never so credulous as unbelief.

Mr. Constable insists that this Paradise could he no part of hades, and that people are forced thus to suppose that two Paradises! I agree with him that it is one and the same Paradise throughout. And the difficulty which he supposes is only the fruit of people studying rabbinical theology more than Scripture. Hades, as is acknowledged, is but the "unseen," and never defines precise locality. It is the attempt to make it definite which has confused people's minds, that is all.

But hades is in the "heart of the earth," says Mr. Constable. How does he know? Why, the earth swallowed up Korah and his company, and they "went down alive into sheol". That is his proof. May we not equally say that hades is the belly of a whale, because Jonah says that he cried "out of the belly of sheol"? Thus it is not so easy perhaps to decide the question of locality. The necessarily vague thought of the "unseen" refuses such limitation. True, its imagery was naturally borrowed, before the fuller revelation had been given, from that grave with which it necessarily was associated in the mind, and thus you have it pictured as "beneath," souls going down to it or coming up from it. There is moreover a real truth in this conception, in its being a descent from man's position, a degradation from his natural place on earth. The New Testament removes for the saint the veil of the unseen. He departs to be with Christ, and Christ is not in the heart of the earth. The very name of hades for the believer almost disappears, and thus it is most beautifully at the Cross of Christ that the veil begins to lift decidedly. "With me in Paradise" may well be in contrast with Old Testament utterances. Alas, that men should refuse the consolation, the brightness of the new revelation, and seek to retain the darkness, for faith passed away.

In a kindred way is to be explained the saying of the Lord after His resurrection, that he was "not yet ascended to His Father." Mr. Constable with others holds that that is inconsistent with the thought of His having been in Paradise in the intermediate state. But "ascension" is another thing from the departure of the spirit to God. It is connected with the victory over death, not the submission to it. David is not ascended, while his body remains in the grave. And for the Lord how easy to see the unspeakable difference! The departure of the spirit was the witness all had been stooped to, death in its full reality undergone; ascension was the witness of that work accepted, and man as man brought into the new place with God.

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