Returning to Sheol

Posted By on August 24, 2009

I’ve been getting asked about Sheol and the afterlife a lot recently, so I thought I’d return briefly to the topic. (I had blogged about this in relation to ghosts in the OT).  Specifically, here is the question:  does the OT contain the idea of either a blissful afterlife or eternal punishment — as opposed to just teaching that we go to the grave or “realm of the dead” without respect to either “heaven” or “hell”?  It seems to be a favorite web question aimed at making people think the two testaments of the Bible disagree.

I’d like readers to download this file for consideration.  It is all the occurrences of the word “Sheol” in the OT and the corresponding translation in the ESV. I’d like you all to tell me what you think — do you see a blissful afterlife or eternal punishment?

Natrually, there’s more to the issue than this file, but we need to start here.

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6 Responses to “Returning to Sheol”

  1. Nobunaga says:

    It seems to be a place that is never satisfied and is always wanting more, it is not described in terms that would want me to book a holiday there, but is there the posibility of peace there ? 1 Kings 2:6 Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace. also Job 21:13 They spend their days in prosperity,and in peace they go down to Sheol.

    from what i can gather there are different compartments, and differing depths of punishment ???

  2. MWB says:

    At the risk of raising a hornet’s nest of controversy, may I recommend going to the following website and downloading the PDF file titled, “What Leaves the Body at Death?” by RK & RN Phillips.

    http://www.members.optusnet.com.au/~robphillips08/

    Here is a snippit:
    …when an Israelite dies, the spirit returns to God and the body goes into the ground.
    The soul goes to The Grave where it is held incommunicado until the resurrection. Sheol occurs 65 times in the Old Covenant Scriptures. Its factors, 5 x 13, tell us that The Grave is a place of division affecting the spirit (13 is the number of Division – rebellion does not occur before there is division; 5 is the number of the Spirit). The Grave divides the soul from the spirit. Hades is used only 10 times in the New Covenant Scriptures – 10 is the number of sufficiency (for example, 10 Commandments are sufficient to embody the Law). The 10 occurrences of Hades and its association with death tell us that physical death is a sufficient price to pay for our sin (under the Law) and no further price is to be paid. But the price to escape eternal death is a different matter…

  3. cwmyers007 says:

    Mike,

    It is interesting that numerous times in these passages Sheol is found in synonymous parallelism with “death.” It seems that the Hebrew concept of death cannot be equated with out Western definition of death. Death seems to be the cessation of living for the Hebrew, while the Western mind seems to understand a separation between body and spirit. It seems that this separation between body and spirit is almost unimaginable by the Hebrew. As I have shown in my paper on Romans 5:12-17, it seems that the Hebrew mind did not conceive of a physical vs. spiritual, but rather a physico-spiritual reality of death–where separation is inconceivable. At first thoughts then, it seems that the evidence points to Sheol’s translation to be equated with the Hebrew’s understanding of death. From what little I know, it seems that the Hebrew mind conceives of death as something of which everyone partakes, but that God will be faithful to rescue the righteous from it and leave the wicked unto it. The epitome of this truth is seen in Christ’s resurrection of which is our assurance in Him that we will not be left in Sheol. I do not think that the Old testament speaks to the issue of soul sleep–I think that is only dealt with in light of Christ and the New Covenant teaching. Dr. Mike, do you think that the Old Testament evidence speaks in any way (whether for or against) the idea of annihilation? I know the New Testament is explicitly against it (I think of Hebrews and Jesus’ warnings and revelation), so I imagine that they would have gotten the idea of eternal fire from their Bibles.

    Grace be with you,

    Chris

  4. MSH says:

    @MWB: I’ll have a look! Thanks.

  5. MSH says:

    @Nobunaga: good line (booking a holiday)! Yes, you have caught that Sheol is not necessarily negative.

  6. MSH says:

    @cwmyers007: SOme lines from your post: “From what little I know, it seems that the Hebrew mind conceives of death as something of which everyone partakes, but that God will be faithful to rescue the righteous from it and leave the wicked unto it.” Agreed, and this is important. “I do not think that the Old testament speaks to the issue of soul sleep.” Also agreed. “Dr. Mike, do you think that the Old Testament evidence speaks in any way (whether for or against) the idea of annihilation?” No, I don’t.

    I’ll get to the “whys” of these items in the next post.

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