The Spirit World: Chapter Two (Hades)

This entry is part 4 of 23 in the series The Spirit World


(This is a continuation of The Spirit World book series. This post assumes the prerequisite reading of earlier posts in the series.)

Skipping ahead to the New Testament, the next term to be observed in this work is the Greek term, Hades.  Obviously, being Greek, Hades appears only in the New Testament.  The term is used only ten times in Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  Hades is translated in the NIV as “the grave,” “the depths,”  “death” or is left in its original Greek form, transliterated as “Hades.”  Also in the NIV it is translated “Hell,” in Luke 16 (below), but in the modern understanding of that term, “Hell” is not the best designation to be used.  (More will be discussed on this in chapter eight)  With the NIV being a more modern translation, this is an inexplicable use of the term “Hell” in English translation.   Hades is, however, translated as “Hell” in all ten usages of the KJV, a much older translation.

Because the term “Hell” will be expounded on in its own chapter, not much will be noted at this time concerning it.  However, it should be noted at this time that most modern readers have a clear picture in their mind of Hell, which is the equivalent of “the lake of fire,” another spiritual realm which will be studied in this work.  Because “Hell” is an English term, it should be confined to its modern definition when used in modern translations.  As such, “Hell” is not a good modern term to be used for “Hades,” because Hades and the modern understanding of Hell are not synonymous in scripture.  Or, stated another way, Hades is not the lake of fire, but rather a location which will be placed into the lake of fire at a later time.


Several conclusions concerning the nature of Hades can be gleaned from its usage in the New Testament.  Rather than to observe all of the texts and then render a conclusion, in this section the conclusion will be stated first, and then affirmed by the texts.  The reason for this is that an obvious correlation will stand out from the beginning, because the conclusion to be illustrated is that Hades is the Greek term for the Hebrew, SheolThey are one and the same place.

Before examining the biblical uses of Hades, the most conclusive proof that Hades is the same as Sheol can be observed from the fact that Peter quoted Psalm 16 on the day of Pentecost, using the Greek term “Hades” for the Hebrew “Sheol in his quote.  Psalm 16 reads,

Psalm 16:9-10 (NIV)
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the grave [
Sheol], nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

The English renders “the grave” for the original Hebrew “Sheol” in Psalm 16.  Peter’s New Testament Greek quotation of Psalm 16 reads,

Acts 2:26-27 (NIV)
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, 27 because you will not abandon me to the grave [Hades], nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

The English once again renders “the grave,” but for the original Greek term “Hades” in Acts 2:27.  Clearly, Peter equates the Hebrew term Sheol to the Greek term Hades.  Quite simply, you say Sheol “Hades” in Greek just as you say dog “perro” in Spanish.  Peter simply translated the Hebrew term as he spoke it in Greek.

 This being the case, one would expect the New Testament use of the term Hades to be consistent with the Old Testament use of the term Sheol.  One finds that to be precisely the case.

The first passage which will be examined is found in Luke 16.  It should be noted that Luke 16:19-31 is not a typical “theological” passage, as it is a story told by Jesus.  One does not normally presume Jesus’ parables and other illustrative stories to be historically true, but rather figurative or hypothetical in nature.  In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells a story concerning a man named Lazarus and a rich man.  One would rightly presume that Lazarus and the rich man were not real, historical figures, but rather fictional characters which Jesus used to make a point.  For that reason, some would also determine that Jesus’ figurative story concerning Lazarus and the rich man should be utterly relegated to the teaching which Jesus was engaged.  Under most circumstances, such a position is absolutely correct.  One should not attempt to put meaning into Jesus’ parables beyond what Jesus intended.  In this Luke 16 text, Jesus is teaching concerning the pursuit of wealth in this life rather than the pursuit of the things of God.  This is the purpose of his teaching alone.

However, in this case, Jesus – being the anointed teacher concerning the Kingdom of God – is using a theological base for his story.  For Jesus to tell a story which contained unrelated theological truths, one would conclude those theological truths to be accurate, for the understanding of theological truth is an ultimate purpose in all of Jesus’ teaching.  If, for example, Jesus had told the story of creation to underline a truth related to the existence of sin, one would presume that his creation account would be accurate in his story, although it was not the purpose of his teaching.  He would not confuse one theological principle in order to clarify another.  Such would be counterproductive to his overall purpose of teaching.  Such would also be inconsistent with Jesus’ character.

To be certain, Jesus’ intentions in Luke 16 were not to teach on Hades.  His purpose was to teach on worldly wealth.  However, his story does teach on Hades by merit of its being told by Jesus himself on a theological topic.  As such, his inferences concerning the theology of Hades includes Jesus’ understanding of that topic.  Jesus would not, in the context of teaching one theological truth, include another inaccurate theological suggestion. One must conclude that if Jesus speaks on a subject, even within the context of teaching another subject, that his teachings are accurate on the first subject.

To that end, Jesus’ story concerning Lazarus and the rich man provides an insight into Jesus’ understanding of the nature of Hades. 

Jesus’ story is this:

Luke 16:19-31 (NIV)
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell (
Sheol), where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

The location of Jesus’ story was that of Hades.  Once again, the NIV translates Hades as “Hell” in this text, but for the purposes of a consistent observation of the term “Hades,” that underlying Greek term should be noted as the location referenced by Jesus in his original language. 

The immediate conclusion one can draw from Jesus’ story is that Jesus understands Hades to be a place of both the righteous and the wicked, consistent with the Old Testament deductions concerning Sheol.

Hades is a place for the righteous and the unrighteous

Jesus’ story takes place in Hades, as he notes the rich man looking up to see Lazarus far away.  While the distinction, “far away” is given, it should be noted that it is not so far away that it is beyond speaking distance.  The rich man calls out to Lazarus and Lazarus answers.  Even though an expanse is noted between them, they are within the same general area, as they are able to communicate vocally.  This is consistent with the Old Testament observations of Sheol, being a place which is divided, yet a singular location overall.

It can clearly be deduced that Hades is a location which houses the righteous, as Abraham himself is noted to be present with Lazarus in the text.  Likewise, the rich man is clearly depicted as a wicked person in the story.   He ignored Lazarus’ needs on earth and lived in luxury while a needy person longed to eat the scraps from his table.

Other New Testament texts also affirm Hades as a location for both the righteous and the wicked.  In Matthew 11 Jesus notes,

Matthew 11:23-24 (NIV)
23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths[Hades]. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Clearly expressing harsh words for Capernaum’s sin, Jesus relegates them to a future in Hades as a collective city.  In short, Jesus predicts their future destruction and deaths.  Other New Testament texts reaffirm Hades as a place where the righteous exist.  In 1 Corinthians Paul clearly makes this case.

1 Corinthians 15:54-55 (NIV)
54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death [thantos], is your victory? Where, O death [Hades], is your sting?”

In verse 55, the first usage of the English term “death” is from the Greek term, “thantos,” which refers to bodily death, or “the state of being dead.”  The second reference to “death” is a different term; the Greek term “Hades,” although the NIV makes no distinction between the two by using the same English term “death” in each usage.  The KJV states, “O death, where is thy sting?  O grave, where is thy victory,” which demonstrates the two differing terms more accurately.  Death is not synonymous with Hades.  Rather, two different questions are being asked.  Physical death is being asked, “where is your victory,” while spiritual death (Hades) is being asked, “where is your sting?” 

The most important observation of the text at this time, however, is the fact that Paul speaks to believers in his text.  He is writing to the church at Corinth concerning their future resurrection, “when the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.”  Clearly Paul teaches of a release from death and Hades for believers.  Thus, just as the righteous are granted the promise of release from Sheol in the Old Testament, so they are assured a victory over Hades in the New Testament.

Sheol and Hades represent the same container of the spiritual dead; one in the Hebrew language and one in the Greek language.

Hades is compartmentalized

Another clear demonstration of this truth is that Hades, like Sheol, is noted to be a compartmentalized place.  As was referenced moments ago in Luke 16, Hades is demonstrated to be compartmentalized.  Lazarus and the rich man, though being in Hades, are separated by a great chasm.  They are able to communicate across it, yet they are unable to leave their respective abodes to enter the adjoining compartment.

It is also clear, as was demonstrated of Sheol, that there is a higher and lower level in Hades.  The rich man was required to look “up” in order to see and communicate with Lazarus.

Hades is more harsh for the unrighteous than for the righteous

Furthermore, it is clearly discernable from the Luke 16 story that the compartment of Hades which holds the unrighteous is more harsh than that which holds the righteous.  Lazarus is depicted as being in comfort, reclining at Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man, however, is in great agony.  Verse 23 notes that the rich man “was in torment” in Hades.  More specifically, the rich man notes the cause of his agony as he asks Lazarus to dip his finger in water to cool his tongue, “because I am in agony in this fire.”  Just as in Sheol, the unrighteous compartment of Hades is demonstrated to consist of despair and suffering.  His pain is substantial enough that the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them, “so that they will not also come to this place of torment.”

Hades is a place of consciousness

Continuing the observation of Hades in Luke 16, another affirmation that Hades and Sheol are one and the same exists in that consciousness is noted of both.  Clearly consciousness must exist for the rich man and Lazarus to have a conversation concerning their predicaments.  Consciousness must also exist for the rich man to contemplate the future judgments of his brothers and appeal to Abraham to send a warning to them.

Hades is mentioned as being downward from the earth

Hades, like Sheol, is furthermore always noted in a downward position in scripture when a designation of direction from the earth is noted.  Jesus’ warning to Capernaum notes them as going “down” to Hades from their current positions on Earth.

Matthew 11:23-24 (NIV)
23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths[Hades]. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Hades and Sheol are verified to be one and the same by every comparison.  Each description of Hades matches the Hebrew descriptions of Sheol.  By definition, when a term in one language matches perfectly the same description in another language, the term is understood to be one and the same. 

In conclusion, Sheol/Hades is the container for the dead.  It is a singular container, but is separated into two parts; a container for the righteous and one for the wicked.  The righteous place in Sheol/Hades is one of peace and comfort, with a promise of a future redemption from that location.  The unrighteous location within Sheol/Hades is one of fire, torment and hopelessness, with no such hope of redemption ever offered.  As such, Sheol or Hades are rightly understood as the spiritual “place of the dead.”  The simple use of Sheol or Hades does not necessitate righteousness or unrighteousness, as both groups are noted to be in that location in both Testaments.  As this work progresses, it will also be demonstrated that Sheol/Hades is a temporary location.  The righteous have been demonstrated a promise of future release from that abode.  The unrighteous will later be demonstrated to be moved from that location to permanent location at a future time.  From these conclusions alone, it can be understood that the equating of Sheol/Hades to Hell (meaning the lake of fire) is an improper use of the terms.  They are not synonymous in scripture. 

image The Spirit World series will continue weekly until the entire book is published online. If, however, you enjoy this series and do not wish to wait, you can purchase the paperback, Kindle or pdf version of The Spirit World here.

Series Navigation<< The Spirit World: Chapter One (Sheol)The Spirit World: Chapter Three (Abaddon) >>

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