After Death - Appendix 1

Sheol (Hades), Heaven and Hell

Those that argue for the non-existence of the dead sometimes say that Sheol simply means the earth as the common grave of mankind. This is based on such passages as Ezekiel 32:27 where it says: "Who are gone down to Sheol with their weapons of war; and whose swords are laid under their heads" and Numbers 16:33 where it says of the families of Dathan and Abiram: "They went down,... alive into Sheol". Reasoning from these passages it is said that it is simply people's bodies that go into Sheol and the idea that souls are there is false. That Sheol is always portrayed in Scripture as being a place beneath is true, for instance: " The path of life is upwards for the wise, that he may depart from Sheol beneath" (Proverbs 15:24). Further, a person's soul is identified with his body in going down. It is persons that go down; "Them that go down into the pit" (Psalm 143:7). When resurrection is spoken of it is persons that are raised, not just their souls or just their bodies. See for instance 1 Corinthians 15:52 "The dead shall be raised". In Revelation 20:13 death, hades and the sea all gave up the dead which were in them, so that those drowned or buried at sea have part in the resurrection the same as those buried on land. When Christ raised Lazarus he said: "Lazarus, come forth" (John 11:43). It was the person that came forth from the tomb, not just his body. However, there are some passages that speak of the body being raised and others that speak of the soul in that connection. Thus we have: "Thy dead shall live, my dead bodies shall arise" (Isaiah 26:19) and "Many bodies of the saints fallen asleep arose" (Matthew 27:52). As to the soul we have: "Jehovah, thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol" (Psalm 30:3) and "The souls of those beheaded on account of the testimony of Jesus... lived and reigned with the Christ a thousand years" (Revelation 20:4).

It may also be noted that many times in the Old Testament we have the statement that persons died and were gathered to their peoples. It is said of Abraham (Genesis 25:8); Ishmael (Genesis 25:17); Isaac (Genesis 35:29) and Jacob (Genesis 49:33). It is clear that being gathered to his peoples does not mean in the case of Abraham that he was buried alongside his father in his grave, for Abraham's ancestors were no doubt buried far away, in Haran and Er of the Chaldees. Further, in all the cases quoted the persons were not yet buried when the statements were made as to them. In later books in the Old Testament we have the statement made as to persons who died that they slept with their fathers. Thus we have as to Solomon: "And Solomon slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David his father" (1 Kings 11:43). Here again, sleeping with his fathers is distinguished from his burial. What all this tells us is that Scripture makes clear that in Old Testament times at least, the souls of persons who died went to be with the souls of their ancestors who had died before them. They would not be said to be with persons who did not exist !

Although Sheol is the place below and both the body and soul are said to be there, they are clearly not united in that place. There is the earth beneath (the physical Sheol) as well as the place of departed spirits (the spiritual Sheol). See Amos 9:2 for the former: "Though they dig into Sheol"; Ezekiel 32:21 for the latter: "The strong shall speak to him out of the midst of Sheol". When persons die their spirit (or soul) is separated from their body (John 19:30; Genesis 35:18). Correspondingly, it is said of those resuscitated that their spirit (or soul) returned (Luke 8:55 and 1 Kings 17:22). Sometimes it would appear that the word Sheol (or Hades) is used in a sense other than the literal e.g. for a fall from top to bottom. Thus we have Capernaum brought down from Heaven to Hades (Matthew 11: 23). Capernaum was never literally in Heaven and will not be literally in Hades. In Isaiah 57:9 we have the thought of a person debasing herself unto Sheol - the greatest degradation. This is said of a person still alive.

From the above it will be clear that Scripture teaches that persons exist in a disembodied state after they have died. However, where the persons are and the state in which they exist is a matter on which opinions differ. The evangelical wing of the professing Church seems to hold that persons go either to a place called Heaven or to a place called Hell. Properly speaking neither are right.

As to Heaven, Christ will come from there when he comes to raise his own from the dead (1 Thessalonians 4:16). If his own were already in Heaven he would not have to come for them. As to Hell, the question arises first of all as to what that is. In the AV the word Hades (which corresponds to Sheol in the Old Testament) is translated Hell as well as the word Gehenna, the fiery place. The fact is, persons when they die go to their own place as Peter said of Judas (Acts 1:25); that is persons go to a place appropriate for them.The rich man in Luke 16 is said to be in Hades; it is not said where Abraham and Lazarus were. There was a long distance and a chasm between them and the rich man, but that is all we are told. Even though there was a long distance between them they could still converse freely. This is not so strange if we consider that conditions on the other side of death may be quite different from conditions here. In fact, even on earth persons can converse over long distances by telephone, radio etc.