“Hell” in the Hebrew Scriptures

A serious problem with many English translations of the Bible is the word “hell.” It is the cause of great confusion and misunderstanding.

Our English word “hell” is the translation of one Hebrew and three Greek words.

The English word “hell” is a translation of the single Hebrew word she‘ôl (sheh-ole’, or sheol).

In the King James Version, she‘ôl is translated:

grave (32 times)
hell (31 times)
pit (3 times)

How can the same word that is translated as “grave” be almost equally translated as “hell”? Were the translators confused? Is the average reader aware that “grave” and “hell” are both translations of the Hebrew word she‘ôl? Do the words “grave” and “hell” mean the same thing to the average reader? Talk about confusion!

Concerning she‘ôl, E.W. Bullinger has written,

As to the rendering “hell,” it does not represent sheol, because both by dictionary definition and by colloquial usage “hell” means the place of future punishment.

Sheol has no such meaning, but denotes the present state of death. “The grave” is, therefore, a far more suitable translation, because it visibly suggests to us what is invisible to the mind, viz., the state of death. It must, necessarily, be misleading to the English reader to see the former put to represent the latter.

The student will find that “THE grave,” taken literally as well as figuratively, will meet all the requirements of the Hebrew sheol: not that sheol means so much specifically “A grave,” as generically, but “THE grave …”

Sheol therefore means the state of death; or the state of the dead, of which the grave is a tangible evidence. … It may be represented by a coined word, “Gravedom,” as meaning the dominion or power of the grave.

Clyde L. Pilkington, Jr.
The Salvation of All
© 2005-2010

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