When You Remove Hell

by bitznbitez

This mornings prayers included the prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel chapter two.   In that passage she prays the following :

The Lord killeth and maketh alive, he bringeth down to hell and bringeth back again.

In this prayer we have the idea that the dead go to hell and some of them come back.   This is the nut of the difference in the theology of the afterlife between protestants and catholic/orthdox.   It also clearly expresses the notion of the resurrection, something which some are now alleging the ancient Jews didn’t believe but thats a topic for another day .

I focus only on this verse in what follows but examples like this are found all over the old testament.   The notion that the patriarchs and others went to hell temporarily ( or alternate names such as the limbo of the fathers, the bosom of abraham, or even purgatory ) until the time of Christ, when they were taken out of hell to heaven, is completely scriptural.

How the protestant view that the above teaching is not biblical emerged and obtains support is rather fascinating.

The passage above is rendered as follows in date order :

kurios thanatoi kai zoogonei katagei eis adou kai anagei — LXX ( 300-400 BC ? ) ( adou is what in english we call hades ).

In the later Masoretic text which emerged around AD 700 when Judaism produced a new standardized text the word they rendered hades in their greek translation is consistently sheol.

In the Latin translation produced early in the history of the Church the word hades and sheol is consistently rendered infernum, inferos and their related declinations and whatnot.

Dominus mortificat et vivificat deducit ad infernum et reducit — Latin Vulgate ( 385 )

In germanic languages hades, infernum, sheol consistently became hell, as in hellis or hölle or hellen or helle etc.

The Lord sleeth, and quikeneth; he ledith forth to hellis, and bryngith ayen. — Wycliffe ( 1382 to 1395 )

Der HERR tötet und macht lebendig, führt in die Hölle und wieder heraus. — Luther ( 1534 )

Suddenly in the beginning of the reformation translations, such as the Geneva translation emerge rendering this as grave and not hell.  The Geneva consistenly renders sheol/hades as grave and thus removes hell from the old testament.   The impact of this is huge.

The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. — Geneva Bible ( 1599 )

The Douay Rheims keeps with tradition and renders it hell.

The Lord killeth and maketh alive, he bringeth down to hell, and bringeth back again. — Douay Rheims ( 1610 )

The KJV which sought to correct some of the translational problems of the Geneva Bible and other lesser known translations of the time split the difference on hades.  It rendered it hell or grave.  In cases where it made a significant theological difference it rendered in favor of protestant teaching and used the word grave, as it did here in Hannah’s prayer.

The LORD killeth , and maketh alive : he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up . — KJV ( 1611 )

Modern versions for the last century or more (ASV, RSV, ESV, etc.) avoid the entire problem by simply letting the Hebrew word sheol flow through untranslated, some other modern versions use the phrase netherworld.   The NIV version returns to the Geneva tradition of getting rid of Hell entirely from the Old Testament ( at least the 1984 version did ) and that in turn allows the existence of Hell itself to be called into question today.

By changing the word hell to grave the meaning of scripture regarding the afterlife materially changed.   If the traditional manner of understanding had been maintained it would have had no impact.   But along with changing the rendering to remove hell the use of traditional understand was declared to be incorrect.   Thus freed from the mooring of how it was always understood the meaning was now at the mercy of the translators and gave rise to the ability to charge the traditional teaching was “Not in the Bible” to which I would simply add “Not in the Bible anymore….”

Christ descended into Hell, he preached to the spirits in prison and led captives in his train when he ascended.  He harrowed hell.  He made a way out of hell.   Prior to the Christ all the dead were consigned to hell.  Those who were only there temporarily but ultimately went to heaven when the Christ came are described as having been in an upper hell, the bosom of Abraham, a region of the underworld called purgatory, the limbo of the fathers, so on and so forth.   They all describe something other than the hell of the damned or the hell from which there is no escape etc.  All of these different descriptions are an attempt to finely explain something which is not fully explained and that is why there are variations in description but not in core concept.

Whether or not the above paragraph is Biblical hinges on whether one thinks that we can change suddenly the meaning of a word that has been in use for millennia.   Today we are witnessing such changes in words relating to the question of marriage, whether one views that as a good or bad thing will depend on ones views of the issue in general.