Only Five Old Testament Texts Are Claimed

Professor Stuart (orthodox Congregational) only dares claim five out of the sixty-four passages as affording any proof that the word means a place of punishment after death. "These," he says, "may designate the future world of woe," though he adds: "I concede, to interpret all the texts which exhibit Sheol as having reference merely to the grave is possible; and therefore it is possible to interpret " them "as designating a death violent and premature, inflicted by the hand of Heaven."

An examination shows that these five passages agree with the rest in meaning consequences of temporal duration.

Ps. 9:17 "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God." The wicked here are "the heathen,:" "mine enemies," i.e., they are not individuals but "the nations that forget God." They will be turned into Sheol, death, die as nations, for their wickedness. Individual sinners are not meant.

Dr. Allen, of Bowdoin College, says of this text: "The punishment expressed in this passage is cutting off from life, destroying from the earth by special judgment, and removing to the invisible state of the dead. The Hebrew term translated hell in the text does not seem to mean, with any certainty, anything more than the state of the dead in their deep abode." Professor Stuart: "It means a violent and premature death inflicted by the hand of heaven."

Job 21:13: "They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave." It would seem that no one could claim this text as a threat of after-death punishment. It is a mere declaration of sudden death. This is evident when we remember that it was uttered to a people who, according to all authorities, believed in no punishment after death.

Prov. 5:5: "Her feet go down to the grave; her steps take hold on hell." This language, making death and Sheol parallel, announces that the strange woman walks in paths of swift and inevitable sorrow and death. And so does Prov. 11:18: "But he knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell." Sheol is here used as a figure or emblem of the horrible condition and fate of those who follow the ways of sin. They are dead while they live. They are already in Sheol or moral death.

Prov. 23:13-14: "Withhold not correction from the child; for if thou beatest him with the rod he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell." Sheol is here used either as the grave to denote the death that rebellious children experience early, or, it may mean that moral condition of the soul which Sheol, the realm of death signifies. But in neither case is it supposable that it means a place or condition of after-death punishment, in which, as all scholars agree, Solomon was not a believer.

That the Hebrew Sheol never designates a place of punishment in a future state of existence, we have the testimony of the most learned of scholars, even among the so-called orthodox. We quote the declarations of a few:

Rev. Dr. Whitby: "Sheol throughout the Old testament, signifies not a place of punishment for the souls of bad men only, but the grave, or place of death.": Dr. Chapman: "Sheol, in itself considered has no connection with future punishment." Dr. Allen: "The term Sheol itself, does not seem to mean anything more than the state of the dead in their dark abode." Edward Leigh, who, says Horne's "Introduction," was one of the most learned men of his time, and his work a valuable help to the understanding of the original language of the Scriptures," observes that "all learned Hebrew scholars know the Hebrews have no proper word for hell." Prof. Stuart: "There can be no reasonable doubt that Sheol does most generally mean theunderworld, the grave or sepulchre, the world of the dead. It is very clear that there are many passages where no other meaning can reasonably be assigned to it. Accordingly, our English translators have rendered the word Sheol grave, in thirty instances out of the whole sixty-four instances in which it occurs." Dr. Thayer in his "Theology of Universalism" quotes as follows: "Dr. Whitby says that Hell 'throughout the Old Testament signifies the grave, or the place of death.'" Archbishop Whately: "As for a future state of retribution in another world, Moses said nothing to the Israelites about that." Paley declares that the Mosaic despensation "dealt in temporal rewards and punishments. The blessings consisted altogether of worldly benefits, and the curses of worldly punishments." Prof. Mayer says, that "the rewards promised the righteous, and the punishments threatened the wicked, are such only as are awarded in the present state of being." To the same important fact testify Prof. Wines, Bush, Arnauld, and other distinguished theologians. All Hebrew scholars agree that the Hebrews had no word proper for hell as a place of punishment.

If we consult the passages in which the word is rendered grave, and substitute the original word Sheol, it will be seen that the meaning is far better preserved:

Gen. 37:34-35: "and Jacob rent his clothes, and put sack-cloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him: but he refused to be comforted: and he said, For I will go down into the grave (Sheol—Hadees) unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him."

It was not into the literal grave, but into the realm of the dead, where Jacob supposed his son to have gone into which he wished to go.

Gen. 42:38 and 44:31, are to the same purport:

"And he said, my son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: and if mischief befall him by the way in which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs in sorrow to the grave." "It shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die; and thy servants shall bring down the gray hears of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave."

The literal grave may be meant here, but had Sheol remained untranslated, any reader would have understood the sense intended. The remaining passages where the word is rendered grave are 1 Sam. 2:6-13; 1 Kings 2:6-9; Job 7:9, 14:13; Num.26:33; Job 17: 13-14; 21:13; 33:21-22; Ps. 6:5; 30:3; 88:3; Prov 1:12; Ps.20:3, 140:7; Cant. 8:6; Ecc. 9:10; Isa 38:19; Ps. 31:17, 79:48; Prov. 30:16; Isa. 14:11, 38:18. Of the latter passage, "For the grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee;they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth," Prof. Stuart says, "I regard the simple meaning of this controverted place (and of others like it, e.g. Ps. 6:5; 30:9; 88:11; 115:7; Comp. 118:17) as being this namely, 'The dead can no more give thanks to God nor celebrate his praise among the living on earth, etc.'" And he properly observes: "It is to be regretted that our English translation has given occasion to the remark that those who madeit have intended to impose on their readers, in any case a sense different from that of the original Hebrew. The inconstancy with which they have rendered the word Sheol, even in cases of the same nature, must obviously afford some apparent ground for this objection against their version of it.

Why the word should have been rendered grave and pit in the foregoing passages, and hell in the rest, cannot be explained. Why it is not the grave, or hell or better still, Sheol or Hadees in all cases, no one can explain, for there is no valid reason.

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