10 Dec 2006

Retrofitting the Old Testament, continued

Submitted by theshovel
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As previously mentioned, I'm going to throw out a few observations regarding some of the 65 verses with 67 OT references that use the transliterated Hebrew word "Sheol". The New American Standard Bible simply uses the English form directly instead of translating into other already familiar English words. The King James Version, on the other hand, uses either the word hell (31), grave (31), pit (3), depth (1), or the sword (1) to represent that one Hebrew word. The New International Version uses grave (57), death (7), the depths (2), or the sword (1).

Now, while accusations of heresy and/or Satanic influence have been made against modern translations for using the word "grave" where the KJV uses "hell" many folks may have assumed that "grave" was not an accurate translation. However, as the KJV translated Sheol equally as both hell and grave it's either just as acceptable or else the KJV translators were wrong in having used a word other than hell. I haven't found it stated anywhere that "grave" is a bad translation of the Hebrew word "Sheol", only that "grave" is the wrong translation in those verses where the KJV uses "hell".

This particular translation controversy really has nothing to do with changing GOD's words but with changing the KJV's words. However, because it has been commonly taught that the KJV was authorized by God as HIS inspired word for the English language it has also meant to many millions of people that to change a word in the KJV is to change God's authoritative meaning. That's a heavy weight to live with. I wonder how many who have switched translations still imagine the word hell in those OT writings.

Take a look at some of those KJV verses using the word "hell":

* 2 Samuel 22:6 The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me;
* Job 11:8 It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?
* Job 26:6 Hell is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering.
* Psalm 16:10 For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
* Psalm 18:5 The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.
* Psalm 55:15 Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.
* Psalm 86:13 For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.
* Psalm 116:3 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.
* Psalm 139:8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
* Isaiah 28:15 Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:
* Isaiah 28:18 And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.
* Habakkuk 2:5 Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people:

Do you see any mention of fire or burning in the above? If so, do you realize that we've had to retrofit these verses in order to make the concept of everlasting flames seem to fit within the writer's?or should I say, God's?meaning? Hey look, if we want a better fit we might instead consider the 36 times the KJV translated the same word as something else. And even in those cases the meaning speaks of much more than just a physical hole in the ground where the dead are buried. For it includes the sum total of death: loss, pain, sorrow, corruption, finality, mortality, fear, uncertainty ... inevitability. Instead of connecting hell with fire these verses associate it with death, corruption and destruction.

Sorrows and Pain of Hell

* 2 Samuel 22:6 The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me;
* Psalm 18:5 The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.
* Psalm 116:3 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.

WHO was compassed about by the sorrows of hell, WHO was prevented by the snares of death, and WHO was "gat hold" by the pains of hell? It was not the suffering of the person who was buried in the ground, it was the suffering and pain of the one who was dreading the impending doom of death, of the unknown.

Proverbs and Hell

* Proverbs 5:5 Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.
* Proverbs 7:27 Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death.
* Proverbs 9:18 But he knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell.
* Proverbs 15:11 Hell and destruction are before the LORD: how much more then the hearts of the children of men?
* Proverbs 15:24 The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath.
* Proverbs 23:14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
* Proverbs 27:20 Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.

Once again, these verses pair hell together with either death or destruction. In the first three, a father warns his son against the beguiling words of a "strange woman" ("For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil". Proverbs 5:3). In other words, a prostitute. So, was this father really threatening his children with spending an eternity burning in flames for succumbing to sexual temptation? What a wise father, eh? A little more reading provides more insight into the wisdom of this father: "Hear me now therefore, O ye children, and depart not from the words of my mouth. Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house lest thou give thine honour unto others, and thy years unto the cruel. Lest strangers be filled with thy wealth; and thy labours be in the house of a stranger; and thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed" (Proverbs 5:7-11). No, no everlasting torment in a molten pit of lava in this instruction. Instead, this father took a straightforward approach with his children by describing the harsh reality behind the enticements of a woman who would steal their very lives. You'll find similar wisdom in the rest of these verses.

Lucifer, the Grave and Hell

Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations ... Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee. ... Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. Isaiah 14:9, 11 & 15

Before I comment, let me quote part of an argument about our modern versions:

"Did you know that the newer Bible versions are taking the fire out of hell? The word HELL occurs 31 times in the OT in the KJV (King James Version). In the OT of the NIV (New International Version), it occurs - ZERO! The word HELL is not in the OT of the NIV! And what do they do with HELL? They substitute the GRAVE for hell. They take Psalms 9:17 (KJV) which reads 'The wicked shall be turned into HELL...' The NIV reads in Psalms 9:17 'The wicked return to the grave...' What? Dont we ALL return to the grave? This passage in Isaiah 14:15 is a good example in case. Here hell is removed and replaced with the grave. The new versions refuse to send Lucifer to HELL! The NIV reads in Isaiah 14:15 'But you are brought down to the GRAVE....' The NASV (New American Standard Version) and NKJV (New King James Version) place him in SHEOL! Critics claim, 'Oh the newer Bible are easier to read and understand..' Really? SHEOL really clarifies that verse for a Sunday school class!" From "Hell Happened"

Hey, there was a time in my life I would have amen-ed the whole thing, so please don't take this as a ridicule. I offer it here because it expresses the kind of argument that swayed me with its authority and stirred up what I believed to be righteous indignation against those who rejected "sound doctrine". When I began to question some of those sound teachings I adopted while under this type of rationale it continued to intimidate me. However, what once intimidated me now only seems built upon reaction, fear and assumption.

The assumptions I see in the quoted rant:
1. the KJV is God's unquestioned standard of truth by which any other translation is to be judged.
2. the meaning of OT hell, aka Sheol, must include fire in order for it to be taken out.
3. an OT translation without the English word "hell" cannot be accurate.
4. substituting "grave" in place of "hell" is not accurate.
5. the idea of the wicked only returning to the grave isn't good enough.
6. for this verse to not demand that Lucifer is going to hell is a refusal to tell the truth.
7. Sheol is too difficult to understand

Forget for a moment that we're considering a Biblical argument and instead hear one of the most common arguments you've ever encountered since childhood:
This is how I learned it so it must be right. The fact that it fits with how I think things should be stands as proof of its rightness. Therefore, any deviation must be wrong.

We've all been there and done that, eh? Now, whether one side of such an argument is more accurate than another is totally immaterial, for when two parties face off under this premise neither will bend because each one's own sense of identity is at stake. Why else do children as well as adults often fly off the handle at what might seem the slightest difference of opinion? Know that I am not suggesting a matter to be unimportant just because it appears so to another, for I am challenging arguments built upon reaction, fear and assumption. Instead of letting such arguments intimidate we should not be afraid to question them. Perhaps we'll discover some arguments to be quite valid, while others will show themselves as nothing but fluff.

Regarding the argument above, how both the NASB and the NKJV use "Sheol" instead of "hell" in Isaiah 14:15, I have to wonder if the author had noticed that his own KJV used two different words for that apparently-confusing Hebrew transliteration? If so, I wonder if he verified the distinction out of his own curiosity in a Hebrew concordance to see if they were actually the same Hebrew word? Then again, I have to wonder why the KJV translators themselves chose two different words in these back-to-back sentences instead of making them all the same? Do hellfire preachers also take this "removal" to task? Maybe, but I don't remember hearing anything about it. In case you didn't look up to see these, here they are:

* "HELL from beneath is moved for thee..."
* "Thy pomp is brought down to the GRAVE..."
* "Yet thou shalt be brought down to HELL..."

Look at that criticism again:

What? Dont we ALL return to the grave?

The point behind such a criticism suggests that God would not have decreed the same fate for the wicked as for those who are not. Why even bring it up if the fitting end of the wicked is no different than that of anyone else? I'm thinking that if we weren't so caught up with what we think certain people deserve we might instead catch the sense of such a simple statement. We read this verse while looking back at history, but the author was speaking from within his own daily experience. Let's consider this a little closer to home. Despite the fact that approximately 3 people die every second we barely notice unless some compelling circumstance grabs our attention, especially if the person is either someone we love or someone we hate. When a tyrannical leader or a vicious criminal is sentenced to death millions will rejoice that such a one will finally meet his end. The news is not diminished by the fact that everybody is going to die, but instead that the one who had done such harm to so many will die now. Look at more of David's song and you'll see a bit more of his real life concerns that don't need a burning pit of fire to accentuate their meanings.

The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. For the needy shall not always be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever. Arise, O LORD; let not man prevail: let the heathen be judged in thy sight. Put them in fear, O LORD: that the nations may know themselves to be but men. Selah. Psalm 9:17-20

David called on the Lord to deal with his enemies so that it would be known they are but men. Their defeat would reveal it.

Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day when he went down to the GRAVE I caused a mourning: I covered the deep for him, and I restrained the floods thereof, and the great waters were stayed: and I caused Lebanon to mourn for him, and all the trees of the field fainted for him. I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to HELL with them that descend into the pit: and all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, shall be comforted in the nether parts of the earth. They also went down into HELL with him unto them that be slain with the sword; and they that were his arm, that dwelt under his shadow in the midst of the heathen. Ezekiel 31:15-17

Once again, the KJV translators opted to use "hell" for only 2 of the 3 occurrences of Sheol choosing "grave" for the third. Here, too, God gave Ezekiel the message to pass on that He would cast the evil one down into the same fate as those who are thrown into the pit. Notice how it designates hell as the nether parts of the earth which are simply the lower parts of the earth. In other words, down into the ground where one's body is taken back into the earth where there is no return. They who were so high are cast down to the lowest depths.

Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it. Isaiah 5:14

An interesting side note on both the Isaiah and Ezekiel passages:
Though both are usually taught and referenced as pertaining to Lucifer (i.e. Satan) the context of each more directly deals with human adversaries. In Ezekiel 31, God sent Ezekiel to "Pharaoh king of Egypt, and to his multitude" with a warning in which the king is compared to "the Assyrian" who set himself above the rest only to be humbled and destroyed. While the KJV presents him in the singular the scope seems to include Assyria itself, especially as the passage concludes the comparison with "This is Pharaoh and all his multitude". Isaiah 14 describes the fall of the king of Babylon where he is also called Lucifer, son of the morning. "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" Now, are we to assume that having it stated "fallen from heaven" means the prophet was really talking about the devil? Remember that Jesus himself spoke of Capernaum as having been exalted unto heaven: "And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell" (Matthew 11:23). And this: "Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down" (Amos 9:2). They were addressed according to the manner in they had been perceived and in which they had perceived themselves.

Jonah and Hell

And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice. Jonah 2:2

Where was Jonah when he made this statement? In the belly of the big fish. For him, that was his prison in the lowest depths of the earth. Any other suggestion is ridiculous.

Fire in Hell

For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains. Deuteronomy 32:22

Well, here it is, the only verse in the OT that makes an association between hell (Sheol) and fire. But first, let's check the context to see if it gives us any hints.

They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains. I will heap mischiefs upon them; I will spend mine arrows upon them. They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat, and with bitter destruction: I will also send the teeth of beasts upon them, with the poison of serpents of the dust. The sword without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also with the man of gray hairs. I said, I would scatter them into corners, I would make the remembrance of them to cease from among men. Deuteronomy 32:21-26

No, this is not the hell we have been made to believe it is. It only appears so if we remove it from its context.

If there was a place attached to the word Sheol (aka hell, grave) it would be the end of the road for all that is flesh and blood. The understanding of Sheol was the understanding of more than just those placed in the grave, it carried with it the weight of one's own destiny and mortality. Consider God's take on this inevitability:

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. Genesis 3:19

Sheol is the earth's reclaiming of all flesh. From the earth we came, to the earth we return. Of the earth, earthy.

The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.1 Corinthians 15:47-49

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theshovel's picture

These comments were all transferred over from the original website

Posted: Dec-11-06 at 1:32pm by Peter
Dear Jim,

Thank you for your great web-site and for your emails on sheol. You have probably one of the best grace sites in the world. Keep on doing what your doing. I feel confident it is from Christ.

Let us (in Christ) all influence each other via His Spirit for good.

God bless your life in Jesus name

Your friend (and brother),


Posted: Dec-12-06 at 4:10pm by Gregg
Merry Christmas, Jim! Thank you for daring to minister pure freedom to others.

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