Hell

Sheol

As stated earlier, sheol is a Hebrew word translated as “hell” 31 times, “grave” 31 times, and “pit” 3 times in the Old Testament. Why does the King James translate sheol as “hell” the same number of times as it translates it as “grave?” Is it context? Absolutely not. There is not a single use of sheol in the Bible that represents a place of life, fire, torture, or eternal punishment. Look at this definition:

“Sheol is much used in poetry and often parallels ‘death’ or the ‘grave.’ A uniform translation ‘grave’ would solve several problems of interpretation.” – Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, p. 1573

So even this dictionary agrees that “hell” is an incorrect translation of sheol. To prove this, let’s look through some passages where sheol is used.

Sheol Translated as Pit

The word “pit” is found in the Old Testament 77 times, but is only translated from sheol 3 times.

Numbers 16:29-33 – If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the LORD hath not sent me. But if the LORD make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all the that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; (sheol) they ye shall understand that these men have provoked the LORD. And it came to pass, as he had an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them: And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, (sheol) and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation. (KJV, comments added)

In this passage, Korah and his men all perished or died. God made the ground open, which swallowed them up supernaturally. Instead of the word “pit”, the word grave would be more appropriate because they died and went into the ground, similar to a normal burial. This passage has no connection with an eternal punishment, as even their houses were swallowed up, and houses cannot suffer punishment.

Sheol Translated as Grave

As I said, sheol is translated as grave 31 times. Here are a few examples:

Genesis 37:35 – And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave (sheol) unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him. (KJV, comment added)

In this passage, Joseph’s brothers faked Joseph’s death by covering his coat of many colors with goat’s blood. Jacob thus mourned for his son’s death. Jacob says that he will go down into the grave with his son Joseph. However, we know this is figurative, not literal, as Joseph was not literally dead, but was sold into slavery. There is not even any connection to fire in this context. Here’s another example:

2 Samuel 2:6 – The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave (sheol) , and bringeth up. (KJV, comment added)

In this verse, God can bring someone down to sheol, just as easily as he can bring them up. Therefore, sheol cannot be an eternal dwelling place. Grave is a much better translation.

1 Kings 2:6 – Do therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hoar head go down to the grave (sheol) in peace. (KJV, comment added)

This verse says that sheol is a place of peace. This is the complete opposite of eternal punishment. David did not want his enemies to die a peaceful death.

Psalm 49:15 – But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave (sheol): for he shall receive me. Selah. (KJV, comment added)

Here God says He will redeem David’s soul from sheol. If sheol meant eternal hell, how could God redeem David’s soul from it?

Psalm 89:48 – What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? (sheol) Selah. (KJV, comment added)

According to this verse, every man dies and enters sheol. Therefore, it cannot be referring to an eternal punishment.

Hosea 13:14 – I will ransom them from the power of the grave; (sheol) I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave (sheol), I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes. (KJV, comments added)

This is a very important verse. It says that God will ransom people from sheol to redeem them from death, and then he will destroy sheol. There is no way God would rescue people from an eternal hell and then destroy it. That makes absolutely no sense. A much better definition of sheol here is death. The second resurrection will rescue everyone from death. Then God will conquer death, and everyone will be immortal. I discussed this in The Barley Overcomers.

From these verses about sheol, we can conclude that death is similar to a state of sleep. We are not conscious, and therefore cannot experience any pain or fear. It is a place of peace where we will wait until God resurrects us.

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