Are Any Conscious In Hell?
(51) In the Hebrew scriptures (commonly called the Old Testament), the word that is used to name the grave, gravedom, or the death-state, in which all the dead are at rest, is Sheol (Strong’s 7585). This word occurs 65 times altogether in the Hebrew scriptures. It is not, however, translated in the popular King James Version uniformly as “grave.” Three times it is translated “pit,” 31 times “grave,” and 31 times “hell.” The word “hell” occurs in the King James Version of the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) exactly 31 times; that is, the only Hebrew word translated “hell” is this word Sheol.2 The Hebrew Sheol corresponds to the Greek Hades, a word that appears in the “New Testament” to designate the same condition, the death-state. This is proved by the fact that the apostles Peter and Paul, in two quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures in which the word Sheol occurs, have translated it into the their writings by the Greek word Hades.3 Compare Psalm 16:10 with Acts 2:27; and Hosea 13:14 with I Corinthians 15:55, and in the last named text note that in reference KJV Bibles the word “grave” has opposite to it in the margin the word “hell.”
(52) It is very important that we should realize that there is no thought of eternal torment in the Bible use of the words Sheol or Hades. Let us see what Job said: “O that thou wildest hide me in sheol” — that would be a strange desire if Sheol was a place or condition of eternal torment! “that thou wildest keep me secret” — Ah, yes! That is the true thought; Sheol is the hidden state “until thy wrath [the present time of sin and evil] be past, that thou wildest appoint me a set time, and remember me [in the resurrection day]! If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time [in death] will I wait, till my change [in the resurrection] come. Thou shalt call [Matthew 5:28, 29], and I will answer thee [by being awakened from death]; thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.” — Job 14:13-15 KJV.
(53) In Hosea 13:14, we are assured that Sheol (hell, the death-state) is to be destroyed. It cannot, therefore, be an eternal place or condition of any kind whatever. The verse shows that it is by the resurrection that the death-state will be destroyed. The words of the prophet are: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave [Sheol]; I will redeem them from death. O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave [Sheol] I will be thy destruction (Strong’s #6987, extermination].” The apostle Paul, alluding to this, exclaimed at the end of that wonderful chapter on the resurrection of the dead: “O death where is thy sting? O grave [Hades; marginal reading “hell”), where is thy victory?” — I Corinthians 15:55.
(54) The very best of men, Jesus himself, went to hell [hades], not his body merely, but his soul. We learn this from the verse that has already been referred to, Acts 2:27, quoted from Psalm 16:10: “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [hades].” Seeing that Jesus’ soul went to hell, it is manifest that hell does not signify a place or condition of eternal torment, but the death-state. (For an explanation of 1 Peter 3:19 see discussion beginning with paragraph 169.) This agrees with the statement of the prophet: “He [Jesus] has poured out his soul unto death.” Isaiah 53:12.
(55) Some declare that at times Sheol is a place of torture for the wicked, (Deuteronomy 32:22; Psalm 9:17; 55:15; Proverbs 15:11,24; etc.) that in other instances Sheol probably refers to the grave (Genesis 44:29,31; I Kings 2:6,9), and that in several other instances “state of death,” “disembodied existence,”4 may well be what is meant (I Samuel 2:6; Isaiah 38:10). Those who take this position simply have a desire to give “Sheol” the meaning that best suits belief in Satan’s lie that the dead are not really dead. In every instance, Sheol could and should very properly be rendered “the realm of death.” We should note, however, the “state of death” [Sheol] is plainly described in Ecclesiastes 9:5,10.
(56) Some may ask: “If Sheol is the place to which all people go when they die, how can descent into that place be held up as a warning (Psalm 9:17; Proverbs 5:5; 7:27; 15:24; 23:14)?” This is a good question. But we should not assume that because Sheol is held up as a warning, that those who go there are conscious. Psalm 9;17 refers to the destruction of the nations at the great day of God the Almighty, when Yahweh executes his judgment the judgment placed upon Adam death. The references in Proverbs are general and referring to this life. For example, we might say to a child: “Don’t walk in front a car or it might hit you and you could die.” It could be said that by obeying this admonition the child would keep on living. This does not mean that child will never die. (Ecclesiastes 7:17) Likewise, by observing the admonitions given in Proverbs, we can keep ourselves from prematurely entering death and Sheol. But it does not mean that we will not someday die and go to Sheol.
(57) Another question one might ask is: “If Sheol is never a place of pain, how can Moses tell us that God’s anger burns there (Deuteronomy 32:22)?” However, this is not what Deuteronomy 32:22 states. It does not say that God’s anger burns in the lowest hell, but that his anger will burn (against the nation of Israel) to the extent of bringing them to the lowest realms of death. Their death would not be just an ordinary death, but a death of the most disgraceful sort. If we just think a little about what the context is saying, scriptures make sense, and we do not have to add Greek philosophies to them.
(58) Another claim made is: “If the Law and the Prophets teach that at death everybody goes to the dreary abode of the sheol, how then is it that believers faced death with joyful expectation (Numbers 23:10; Psalm 16:9-11; 17:15; 73:24-26)?”
(59) When we look at Numbers 23:10, we find that Balaam was not looking forward to death with joyful anticipation, but rather that he desired that when he died, that he die the death of the righteous. Again, we must look at the context. (Numbers 22:1 through 24:25) Balaam knew he had sinned and was fearful for his life. He did not want to die with the sin upon him. However, Balaam evidently thought he could outsmart the blessing that Yahweh was giving Israel by suggesting that Balak could seduce Israel into disobedience. If Israel disobeyed Yahweh, he thought, then Israel would not receive God’s blessing and he could obtain the rewards being offered him from Balak if he could cause. (Numbers 22:4-7; 23:17-22; 25:1-3) This, of course, did not work, as Yahweh curses Midian. (Numbers 25:16-18) Thus Balaam did not die the death of the righteous as he had hoped, but rather he died with the Midianites. (Numbers 31:8) Thus we see that once we take the context into consideration, Numbers 23:10 does not provide an example of a believer facing death with joyful expectation.
(60) Psalm 16:9-11 is prophetic of Jesus’ joyfulness, not about entering Sheol, but that his soul would not remain in Sheol. (See Acts 2:22-36) Similarly in Psalm 17:15, David is satisfied, not about going into Sheol, but being awakened therefrom and becoming in the likeness of God. Psalm 73:24-26 does not refer to death at all, but to Asaph’s walk with God before death.
(61) Some claim that Leviticus 26:28 and Luke 12:47,48 refer to degrees of punishment in Sheol. Actually neither of these scriptures refer to punishments in Sheol. The first applies to Israel as a nation here upon the earth as the context indicates. Luke 12:47,48 refers to servants of Jesus living in the end of the age when he returns and to the things they will have to go through either during the tribulation period or else during the resurrection day. (Luke 12:42,43; Matthew 24:45,46) Neither scripture says anything about these punishments or chastisements coming during death.
(62) Isaiah 14:9 is sometimes quoted as proof that the saints will recognize each other in heaven. This scripture depicts the cessation of Babylon’s existence as the world power, as shown from Isaiah 14:4. The context shows that there is no reference here to the saints nor to afterlife at all. Sheol is moved to meet Babylon when she comes to her destruction. When she does come to her destruction, the “dead” are stirred up, that is, all the chief ones of the earth. All the kings of the nations raise up from a death-like state to their thrones. In Babylon’s period of glory all other nations were lying down as dead. The other nations had become dormant, as though buried. Babylon would not join the other nations in such a burial condition. Babylon would be completely cut off. But with Babylon’s downfall, all other nations are stirred up. (Isaiah 14:4-23) And so, today, while we still have Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, etc., with us, Babylon has long ago ceased to exist. Babylon did not just go into a slumber, as in Sheol a death-like state from which to later be awakened. Babylon’s empire is gone forever! Thus there is nothing in Isaiah 14 about whether the dead who supposedly go to heaven at death will recognize each other there. Notice how those who want to hold to Satan’s lie take symbolic phrases out of context to support Satan’s claim.
Thus, again we see that the Bible’s hope is the resurrection of souls from Sheol/Hades, not in the supposed immortality of a soul or spirit being that survives the body. “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it. Death and Hades delivered up the dead which were in them.” (Revelation 20:13) What a marvelous prospect! Next we will discuss the rich man in Hades. This parable has often been quoted as proof that the bad will suffer in eternal torment after death. But does it? What will a close examination of this parable in the light of the context show us?