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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology


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Greek term widely used to denote the deity of the underworld and the abode of the dead. The New Testament use of Hades (hades [ ᾅδης ]) builds on its Hebrew parallel, Sheol (se'ol), which was the preferred translation in the Septuagint.

The Old Testament . Sheol refers primarily to death and the abode of the dead, both godly and ungodly (Genesis 37:25; Psalm 16:10; 88:10-12; Isaiah 14:9 ). These conscious souls face a lethargic existence, apparently without reward or retribution (Job 10:21; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Isaiah 14:10 ). Since death is not a natural occurrence but invaded creation through the fall and Satan's destructive work (Genesis 2-3 ), the Old Testament personifies Sheol as the power of Satan and his demonic hosts (Job 18:14; Psalm 18:4-5; Isaiah 28:15; Jeremiah 9:21 ). While an antagonist, Sheol ultimately exists at Yahweh's service (1 Samuel 2:6; Psalm 55:23; 139:8 ). The Old Testament confidently awaits God's victory over Sheol (Psalm 98; Isaiah 25:8; Hosea 13:14 ). But the precise expectation of a bodily resurrection for the wicked and the related conception of Sheol as an intermediate state is late (Daniel 12:2 ).

The New Testament . This indeterminate picture of Sheol and its Greek translation, Hades, allowed varying interpretations by intertestamental Jews. In the New Testament Christ's revelation and salvific work decisively shape this term. For Christ has established authority over all powers (Ephesians 1:20-23 ), even the one who "holds the power of death" (Hebrews 2:14; 2 Timothy 1:10 ). He is the "Lord of both the dead and the living" (Romans 14:9 ).

Hades is the state in which all the dead exist . In the New Testament a descent to Hades may simply refer to someone's death and disembodied existence. In this sense even Jesus enters Hades. Following David's prophecy in Psalm 16:10 , Peter interprets the resurrection as God delivering Jesus from Hades (Acts 2:27,31 ). Similarly, Jesus prophesies that the Son of Man will be delivered from the heart of the earth, just as God delivered Jonah from Hades (Matthew 12:40 ). In both instances, Hades refers to a disembodied existence.

The New Testament does not explore Jesus' precise residence or activity while in Hades, unlike the later church traditions of the "harrowing of hell" or a "Hades Gospel." It is widely accepted that the proclamation in 1 Peter 3:19 occurs after rather than before his resurrection (v. 18, "made alive by the Spirit"), and that the dead in 1 Peter 4:6 are deceased believers who heard the gospel while alive. However, Jesus' descent to Hades is theologically important. This is the path of the Old Testament righteous ( Isaiah 53 ). Furthermore, this descent confirms that God assumed human nature and even our sinful destiny, death (2Col 5:14,21; Hebrews 2:14 ). Finally, Jesus' deliverance from Hades establishes the new life for humanity (1 Corinthians 15 ).

Jesus' parable of the rich man and Lazarus portrays additional features of this state (Luke 16:19-31 ). An unbridgeable chasm separates the wicked and the righteous dead. Death has fixed the human's destiny without further opportunity for repentance. The rich man recalls his fate and that of his family, and cries out in distress for Abraham to send them a sign and relieve his punishment, but to no avail. Usually the details of parables should not be pressed to teach doctrine. In this case Jesus' vivid description of the basic conditions of the godly and ungodly dead is indispensable to the parable's point. Other Scriptures also portray the requests of the dead and the fixity of their future (2Col 5:10; Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 6:9-10 ).

Hades is the place where the wicked dead reside and are punished . In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man experiences torment in Hades. This is the intermediate state, for the bodily resurrection and the final judgment are still future. Jesus' point is that Hades foreshadows the rich man's final judgment. Similarly, Lazarus rests at Abraham's side, connoting the joyous abode of the righteous dead (Luke 16:23 ).

This differentiation between the wicked and the righteous dead continues throughout the New Testament. The righteous dead are "at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8 ), "in paradise" (Luke 23:43 ), or in the presence of God (Revelation 6:9; 7:9; 14:3 ). The unrighteous are held in punishment and wicked angels are imprisoned in Tartarus, a Greek term designating the lowest part of Hades (1 Peter 3:19; 2 Peter 2:4,9; Jude 6 ). Jesus' woe to unrepentant Capernaum that it will be brought down to Hades is not simply a prophecy of its earthly demise, but its judgment ( Luke 10:15 ).

For some commentations these references to Hades and the dead are problematic and contradict the Old Testament. G. Vos resolves these problems by distinguishing between Hades as a disembodied state for all the dead and the specific abode of the ungodly. As he astutely notes, only the ungodly reside in a punitive place called Hades. The godly dead are with Jesus in a disembodied state also called Hades. The New Testament does significantly modify the Old Testament concept of Hades as a shadowy abode of all the dead. This further development, however, concurs with Jesus' lordship over the living and the dead.

Hades' power is conquered . Like the Old Testament, the New Testament personifies Hades and associated terms, such as death, abyss, and Abaddon, as the demonic forces behind sin and ruin (Acts 2:24; Romans 5:14,17; 1 Corinthians 15:25-26; Revelation 6:8; 9:1-11; 20:14 ). When Jesus promises that the "gates of Hades" will never overcome the church (Matthew 16:18 ), this phrase parallels Old Testament expressions tied to evil's power and persecution (Psalm 9:13; 107:17-20 ). Jesus' reference to the future in Matthew 16:18 concurs with Revelation's vision of Satan's final attack on God's people (19:19; 20:7-9). Jesus has promised that he will conquer Hades so that it will not defeat the church. Indeed, his resurrection establishes that this evil empire is already broken. Christ now holds the keys, the authority over death and Hades ( Revelation 1:18 )!

The end of Hades . Jesus is the conqueror of all powers, the exalted One, and as such he has graced his church (Ephesians 4:7-10 ). With Hades vanquished (Revelation 1:18 ) believers know that nothing, not even death, cannot separate them from Christ (Romans 8:39 ). They still await the next act in the history of salvation, when Jesus consummates his kingdom. Then Hades will release its dead for the final resurrection and judgment (Revelation 20:13 ). Thereafter Hades, Satan, and the reprobate will be thrown into Gehenna, the place of God's final retributive punishment. (Hades has only a limited existence; Gehenna or hell is the final place of judgment for the wicked. Many English versions foster confusion by translating both terms as "hell.")

In summary, the New Testament affirms that Christ has conquered Hades. While dead believers exist in this state, they are also "with the Lord." Hades also denotes the vanquished stronghold of Satan's forces whose end is certain and the intermediate place of punishment for the wicked dead until the final judgment.

Timothy R. Phillips

See also Abraham's Bosom; Death, Mortality; Grave; Hell; Sheol

Bibliography . J. W. Cooper, Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting; W. J. Dalton, Christ's Proclamation to the Spirits: A Study of 1 Peter 3:18-4:6 ; M. J. Harris, Themelios 11 (1986): 47-52; R. L. Harris, TWOT, 2:892-93; A. A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future; J. Jeremias, TDNT, 1:146-49,657-58; 6:924-28; T. J. Lewis, ABD, 2:101-5; G. Vos, ISBE, 2:1314-15.

Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Hades'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. 1996.

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