the Fourth Week of Lent
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Hades, a Greek word, which occurs frequently in the New Testament, where it is usually rendered 'hell' in the English version. The word hades means literally that which is in darkness. In the classical writers it is used to denote Orcus, or the infernal regions. According to the notions of the Jews, sheol or hades was a vast receptacle where the souls of the dead existed in a separate state until the resurrection of their bodies. The region of the blessed during this interval, or the inferior paradise, they supposed to be in the upper part of this receptacle; while beneath was the abyss or gehenna(Tartarus), in which the souls of the wicked were subjected to punishment.
The question whether this is or is not the doctrine of the Scriptures is one of much importance, and has, first and last, excited no small amount of discussion. It is a doctrine received by a large portion of the nominal Christian church; and it forms the foundation of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, for which there would be no ground but for this interpretation of the word hades.
The question therefore rests entirely upon the interpretation of this word, and as the Septuagint gives this as the meaning of the Hebrew word sheol, the real question is, what is the meaning which sheol bears in the Old Testament, and hades in the New? A careful examination of the passages in which these words occur will probably lead to the conclusion, that they afford no real sanction to the notion of an intermediate place of the kind indicated, but are used by the inspired writers to denote the grave—the resting-place of the bodies both of the righteous and the wicked; and that they are also used to signify hell, the abode of miserable spirits. But it would be difficult to produce any instance in which they can be shown to signify the abode of the spirits of just men made perfect, either before or after the resurrection.
In the great majority of instances sheolis in the Old Testament used to signify the grave, and in most of these cases is so translated in the Authorized Version. It can have no other meaning in such texts as;;;;;;; and in numerous other passages in the writings of David, Solomon, and the prophets. But as the grave is regarded by most persons, and was more especially so by the ancients, with awe and dread, as being the region of gloom and darkness, so the word denoting it soon came to be applied to that more dark and gloomy world which was to be the abiding place of the miserable. Where our translators supposed the word to have this sense, they rendered it by 'hell.' Some of the passages in which this has been done may be doubtful; but there are others of which a question can scarcely be entertained. Such are those (as;; ) in which the word denotes the opposite of heaven, which cannot be the grave, nor the general state or region of the dead, but hell. Still more decisive are such passages as;; in which sheol cannot mean any place, in this world or the next, to which the righteous as well as the wicked are sent, but the penal abode of the wicked as distinguished from and opposed to the righteous. The only case in which such passages could by any possibility be supposed to mean the grave, would be if the grave—that is, extinction—were the final doom of the unrighteous.
In the New Testament the word hadesis used in much the same sense as sheol in the Old, except that in a less proportion of cases can it be construed to signify 'the grave.' There are still, however, instances in which it is used in this sense, as in;; but in general the hades of the New Testament appears to be no other than the world of future punishments (e.g.;; ).
The principal arguments for the intermediate hades, as deduced from Scripture, are founded on those passages in which things 'under the earth' are described as rendering homage to God and the Savior (; , etc.). If such passages, however, be compared with others (as with , etc.), it will appear that they must refer to the day of judgment, in which every creature will render some sort of homage to the Savior; but then the bodies of the saints will have been already raised, and the intermediate region, if there be any, will have been deserted.
One of the seemingly strongest arguments for the opinion under consideration is founded on , in which Christ is said to have gone and 'preached to the spirits in prison.' These spirits in prison are supposed to be the holy dead—perhaps the virtuous heathen—imprisoned in the intermediate place, into which the soul of the Savior went at death, that He might preach to them the Gospel. This passage must be allowed to present great difficulties. The most intelligible meaning suggested by the context is, however, that Christ by His spirit preached to those who in the time of Noah, while the ark was preparing, were disobedient, and whose spirits are now in prison, abiding the general judgment. The prison is doubtless hades, but what hades is must be determined by other passages of Scripture; and, whether it is the grave or hell, it is still a prison for those who yet await the judgment-day. This interpretation is in unison with other passages of Scripture, whereas the other is conjecturally deduced from this single text.
Another argument is deduced from , which describes 'death and hades' as 'cast into the lake of fire' at the close of the general judgment—meaning, according to the advocates of the doctrine in question, that hades should then cease as an intermediate place. But this is also true if understood of the grave, or of the general intermediate condition of the dead, or even of hell, as once more and forever reclaiming what it had temporarily yielded up for judgment—just as we every day see criminals brought from prison to judgment, and after judgment returned to the prison from which they came.
It is further urged, in proof of Hades being an intermediate place other than the grave, that the Scriptures represent the happiness of the righteous as incomplete till after the resurrection. This must be admitted; but it does not thence follow that their souls are previously imprisoned in the earth, or in any other place or region corresponding to the Tartarus of the heathen. Although at the moment of death the disembodied spirits of the redeemed ascend to heaven, and continue there till the resurrection, it is very possible that their happiness shall be incomplete until they have received their glorified bodies from the tomb, and entered upon the full rewards of eternity.
A view supported by so little force of Scripture, seems unequal to resist the contrary evidence which may be produced from the same source, and which it remains briefly to indicate. The effect of this is to show that the souls of the redeemed are described as proceeding, after death, at once to heaven—the place of final happiness, and those of the unredeemed to the place of final wretchedness.
In , the righteous dead are described as being in actual inheritance of the promises made to the fathers. Our Savior represents the deceased saints as already, before the resurrection (for so the context requires), 'like unto the angels,' and 'equal to the angels' (; ); which is not very compatible with their imprisonment even in the happier region of the supposed Hades. Our Lord's declaration to the dying thief—'This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise' (), has been urged on both sides of the argument; but the word is here not Hades, but Paradise, and no instance can be produced in which the paradise beyond the grave means anything else than that 'third heaven,' that 'paradise' into which the Apostle was caught up, and where he heard 'unutterable things' (; ). In the midst of that paradise grows the mystic 'tree of life' (), which the same writer represents as growing near the throne of God and the Lamb (). In , the Apostle describes the whole church of God as being at present in heaven or on earth. But, according to the view under consideration, the great body of the church would be neither in heaven nor on earth, but in Hades—the intermediate place. In , we are told that in the city of the living God dwell not only God himself, the judge of all, and Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and the innumerable company of angels, but also 'the spirits of just men made perfect'—all dwelling together in the same holy and happy place. To the same effect, but, if possible, still more conclusive, are the various passages in which the souls of the saints are described as being, when absent from the body, present with Christ in heaven (comp.;; ). To this it is scarcely necessary to add the various passages in the Apocalyptic vision, in which St. John beheld, as inhabitants of the highest heaven, around the throne of God, myriads of redeemed souls, even before the resurrection (;;;; ). Now the 'heaven' of these passages cannot be the place to which the term Hades is ever applied, for that word is never associated with any circumstances or images of enjoyment or happiness [HEAVEN].
As these arguments seem calculated to disprove the existence of the more favored region of the alleged intermediate place, a similar course of evidence militates with equal force against the existence of the more penal region of the same place. It is admitted by the staunchest advocates for the doctrine of an intermediate place, that the souls of the wicked, when they leave the body, go immediately into punishment. Now the Scripture knows no place of punishment after death but that which was prepared for the devil and his angels. This place they now inhabit; and this is the place to which, after judgment, the souls of the condemned will be consigned (comp.; ). This verse of Peter is the only one in Scripture in which any reference to the word Tartarus occurs: here then, if anywhere, we should find that intermediate place corresponding to the Tartarus of the heathen, from whom the word is borrowed. But from the other text we can be quite certain that the Tartarus of Peter is no other than the hell which is to be the final, as it is, in degree, the present doom of the wicked. That this hell is Hades is readily admitted, for the course of the argument has been to show that Hades is hell, whenever it is not the grave. Dr. Enoch Pond, whose interesting article on the subject, in the American Biblical Repository, we have chiefly followed, well remarks: 'Whether the righteous and the wicked, after the judgment, will go literally to the same places in which they were before situated, it is not material to inquire. But, both before and after the judgment, the righteous will be in the same place with their glorified Savior and his holy angels; and this will be heaven: and before and after the judgment the wicked will be in the same place with the devil and his angels; and this will be hell.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Hades'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​h/hades.html.