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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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This is a Saxon word, which is derived from a verb which signifies to hide or conceal. A late eminent Biblical critic, Dr. Campbell, has investigated this subject with his usual accuracy; and the following is the substance of his remarks. In the Hebrew Scriptures the word sheol frequently occurs, and uniformly, he thinks, denotes the state of the dead in general, without regard to the virtuous or vicious characters of the persons, their happiness or misery. In translating that word, the LXX have almost invariably used the Greek term αιδης , hades, which means the receptacle of the dead, and ought rarely to have been translated hell, in the sense in which we now use it, namely, as the place of torment. To denote this latter object, the New Testament writers always make use of the Greek word γεεννα , which is compounded of two Hebrew words, Ge Hinnom, that is, "The Valley of Hinnom," a place near Jerusalem, in which children were cruelly sacrificed by fire to Moloch, the idol of the Ammonites, 2 Chronicles 33:6 . This place was also called Tophet, 2 Kings 23:10 , alluding, as is supposed, to the noise of drums, ( toph signifying a drum,) there raised to drown the cries of helpless infants. As in process of time this place came to be considered as an emblem of hell, or the place of torment reserved for the punishment of the wicked in a future state, the name Tophet came gradually to be used in this sense, and at length to be confined to it. In this sense, also, the word gehenna, a synonymous term, is always to be understood in the New Testament, where it occurs about a dozen times. The confusion that has arisen on this subject has been occasioned not only by our English translators having rendered the Hebrew word sheol and the Greek word gehenna frequently by the term hell; but the Greek word hades, which occurs eleven times in the New Testament, is, in every instance, except one, translated by the same English word, which it ought never to have been. In the following passages of the Old Testament it seems, however, that a future world of wo is expressed by sheol: "They," the wicked, "spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to sheol," Job 21:13 . "The wicked shall be turned into sheol, and all the nations that forget God," Psalms 9:17-18 . "Her feet go down to death, her steps take hold on sheol," Proverbs 5:5 . "But he knoweth not that the ghosts are there, and that her guests are in the depths of sheol," Proverbs 9:18 . "Thou shalt beat him with a rod, and shalt deliver his soul from sheol," Proverbs 23:14 . Thus, as Stuart observes, in his "Essay on Future Punishment," while the Old Testament employs sheol, in most cases to designate the grave, the region of the dead, the place of departed spirits, it employs it also, in some cases, to designate along with this idea the adjunct one of the place of misery, place of punishment, region of wo. In this respect it accords fully with the New Testament use of hades. For though hades signifies the grave, and often the invisible region of separate spirits, without reference to their condition, yet, in Luke 16:23 , "In hades εν τω αιδη , he lifted up his eyes, being in torments," it is clearly used for a place and condition of misery. The word hell is also used by our translators for gehenna, which means the world of future punishment, "How shall ye escape the damnation of hell, κρισεως της γεεννης ?"

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Hell'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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Hell, Gates of
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