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AN INQUIRY, &c.
WORDS are signs of men's ideas, and were used as such by the inspired writers, as they must be, by every man, who speaks and writes to be understood. To understand their writings, it is necessary to ascertain what sense they affixed to their words, and this we can only learn, by consulting Scripture usage of them. That men have attached ideas to some Scripture words and phrases which the inspired writers never meant to convey by them, we think will not be denied. That this is not the case with the words Sheol, Hades, Tartarus, and Gehenna, which we propose to examine, ought not to be taken for granted. We shall therefore attempt a consideration of all the places where these words occur, and endeavour to ascertain if by any of them, the Spirit of God intended to convey the idea of a place of endless misery.
ALL THE PASSAGES OF SCRIPTURE CONSIDERED, IN WHICH SHEOL
OCCURS, TRANSLATED PIT, GRAVE, AND HELL, IN THE COM
THE idea which most Christians have attached to the word hell, is a place of future eternal punishment for all the wicked. Wherever they meet with this word in reading their bibles, it calls up the idea of such a place of punishment, and by many it will be deemed the worst of heresies, to give it any other signification. The cry of heresy ought not, however, to deter us from candidly inquiring, “ what is truth,” on this deeply interesting question. I have ventured to inquire what saith the scriptures on this subject, and would submit the result of my investigations for candid consideration.
It is well known, that there are four words in the original languages of the bible, which are all translated by the word hell, in our common English version. These are Sheol, Hades, Tartarus, and Gehenna. The two first of these words are sometimes translated grave, as well as hell; the two last always hell in the common translation.
There is one fact, which deserves attention at the outset, of which many readers of the bible are ignorant. The fact I allude to, is, that the word hell does not occur once in all the Old Testament, where it means a place of eternal misery for the wicked. The fact is indisputable; no man can doubt it who will take the trouble to examine this matter for himself. Nor is this a novel opinion, or a new discovery of mine. The fact is aitested by some of the ablest writers, who believed in this doctrine. Lest my veracity may be doubted on this point, I will quote their words. Dr. Campbell, in his 6th Preliminary Dissertation, p. 181, thus writes :
* As to the word odys, which occurs in eleven places of the New Testament, and is rendered hell in all, except one, where it is translated grave, it is quite common in classical authors, and frequently used by the Seventy in the translation of the Old Testament. In my judgment it ought never in Scripture to be rendered hell, at least in the sense wherein that word is now universally understood by Christians. In the Old Testament, the corresponding word is boxu Shool, which signifies the state of the dead in general, without regard to the goodness or badness of the persons, their happiness or misery. In translating that word, the Seventy have almost invariably used idxs. This word is also used sometimes in rendering the nearly synonimous words or phrases 13 bor and na 'ax abne bor, the pit, and stones of the pit, nin 53 tsal moth, the shades of death, non dumeh, silence. The state is always represented under those figures which suggest something dreadful, dark and silent, about which the most prying eye, and listening ear, can acquire no information. The term ádns Hades, is well adapted to express this idea. It was written anciently, as we learn from the poets (for what is called the poetic, is nothing but the ancient dialect,) andys, ab a privativo et eidw video, and sigħifies obscure, hidden, invisible. To this the word Hell in its primitive signification, perfectly corresponded. For, at first, it denoted only what was secret or concealed. This word is found with little variation of form, and precisely in the same meaning, in all the Teutonic dialects.*
• See Junius' Gothic Glossary, subjoined to the Codex Argenteus, on the word hulyan.
“ But though our word hell, in its original signification, was more adapted to express the sense of adns than of γέεννα, ,
it is not so now. When we speak as Christians, we always express by it, the place of the punishment of the wicked after the general judgment, as opposed to heaven, the place of the reward of the righteous. It is true, that in translating heathen poets, we retain the old sense of the word hell, which answers to the Latin orcus, or rather infernus, as when we speak of the descent of Eneas, or of Orpheus, into hell. Now the word infernus, in Latin, comprehends the receptacle of all the dead, and contains both elysium, the place of the blessed, and Tartarus the abode of the miserable. The term inferi, comprehends all the inhabitants, good and bad, happy and wretched. The Latin words infernus and inferni bear evident traces of the notion that the repository of the souls of the departed is under ground. This appears also to have been the opinion of both Greeks and Hebrews, and indeed of all antiquity. How far the ancient practice of burying the body may have contributed to produce this idea concerning the mansion of the ghosts of the deceased, I shall not take upon me to say; but it is very plain, that neither in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, nor in the New, does the word afns convey the meaning which the present English word hell, in the Christian usage, always conveys to our minds.
" It were endless to illustrate this remark, by an enumeration and examination of all the passages in both Testaments wherein the word is found. The attempt would be unnecessary, as it is hardly now pretended by any critic, that this is the acceptation of the term in the Old Testament. Who, for example, would render the words of the venerable patriarch Jacob, Gen. xxxvii. 35, when he was deceived by his sons into the opinion that his
favourite child Joseph had been devoured by a wild beast, I will go down to hell to my son mourning? or the words which he used, ch. xlii. 38. when they expostulated with him about sending his youngest son Benjamin into Egypt along with them, Ye will bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to hell ? Yet in both places the word, in the original, is Sheol, and in the version of the Seventy, Hades, I shall only add, that in the famous passage from the Psalms, xvi. 10. quoted in the Acts of the Apostles, Acts ii. 27. of which I shall have occasion to take notice afterwards, though the word is the same both in Hebrew and in Greek, as in the two former quotations, and though it is in both places rendered hell in the common version, it would be absurd to understand it as denoting the place of the damned, whether the expression be interpreted literally of David the type, or of Jesus Christ the antitype, agreeably to its principle and ultimate object.”
I have made this long quotation from Dr. Campbell at the outset of my remarks for several reasons.
1st, It shows that Sheol of the Old Testament, and Hades of the New, both translated by our English word hell, do not signify a place of endless misery for the wicked, but simply the state of the dead, without regard to the goodness or badness of the persons, their happiness or misery. It follows of course, that wherever those two words are used in Scripture, though translated by the word hell, we ought not to understand such a place of misery to be meant by the inspired writers. Inattention to this has led to a misunderstanding of many parts both of the Old and New Testaments.
2d, It establishes also that our English word hell, in its primitive signification, perfectly corresponded to Hades and Sheol, and did not, as it now does, signify a place of endless misery. It denoted only what was secret