From the book "Life and Immortality" by Basil Atkinson
" The last division of this section is perhaps the most
important of all. When the Scriptures speak of death they often
couple it with the grave. The significant original words are
sh'ol in Hebrew and haidees in Greek. As they occur in the Bible
they correspond exactly in meaning. Haidees was the word used in
Greek mythology for the underworld or abode of the dead and it is
quite likely as a result of this that so many have sought to
retain this meaning for it in the New Testament and to transfer
the meaning back to Hebrew sh'ol. The Greek word however the New
Testament is as always governed by the meaning of the in Hebrew
in the Old. Both mean in fact the abode of the dead, but not at
all in the sense of heathen mythology. Hebrew sh'ol occurs
sixty-five times in the Old Testament. It is translated 'grave'
thirty-one times in the text and twice in the margin, three times
and 'hell' thirty-one times. 'Grave' and 'hell' inconsistent
translations and this fact shows that the translators were in
some confusion over the meaning of the word. In the New Testament
haidees occurs eleven times, ten times translated 'hell' with
'grave' once in the margin and 'grave' once with 'hell' in the
in the margin. The translation 'hell' is confusing, especially in
the New Testament. There is there a competing word geenna
occurring eight times, seven times in the Gospels and once in the
Epistle of James. It is invariably translated 'hell' and rightly
so, as it refers to the lake of fire, the place of the doom of
the lost.....Here we shall look carefully at the occurrences of
sh ol and haidees and shall discover that their true meaning is
'the grave,' where the dead lie buried in the earth in deep
unconscious- ness until the day of resurrection.
The two words occur about forty-one times meaning 'the
grave' without any special emphasis. Thus we have Jacob saying
that he would join his son in the grave (Gen. 37. 35). Again he
says that if Benjamin came to any harm it would bring him down to
the grave (Gen.42. 38). The words of Jacob are repeated by Judah
to Joseph (Gen. 44.29,31). In I Kings 2.6 and 9 David instructs
his son Solomon not to let Joab go down to the grave in peace and
to bring Shimei down to it with blood.
In Isaiah 5. 14 the prophet speaks poetically of sh'ol
(hell) enlarging itself and the people of the Lord going down
into it. In Isaiah 14. 11 the pomp of the king of Babylon is
down to the grave (sh'ol), and in verse 15 the king himself is
brought down to it. The eight occurrences that we have had
hitherto do not tell us whether we are to think of sh'ol as the
grave or an underworld of ghosts, but here in the context of
Isaiah 14. 15 we have 'the sides of the pit,' the kings lying in
glory in their own tombs (ver. 18), 'thy grave' and 'the stones
of the pit,' 'a carcase' (ver. 19), 'burial' (ver. 20). All this
points strongly to 'the grave' where the dead lie buried as the
meaning of sh'ol. In Isaiah 28. 15, 18 we find death and hell
(sh'ol) as parallels. Our study of the words muth and maveth
earlier in this section have shown us that death means the
cessation of life, and unconscious sleep without remembrance and
without the possibility of praising God. The parallelism here
thus again tends to 'the grave' as the meaning of sh'ol. In
Isaiah 38. 10 king Hezekiah says that he had thought that in his
illness he would go to the gates of the grave (sh'ol). By itself
this reference is inconclusive as to the meaning of sh'ol, but
its connection with verse 18, we shall look at later, brings out
the meaning well.
In Ezekiel 31. 15, 16 and 17 there are three references to
the king of Assyria, and the great kings with him going down to
sh'ol. In verse 15 it is called 'the grave' and in verses 16 and
17 'hell' and described as 'the nether parts of the earth.' This
means underneath the earth, where the dead lie buried. Few
Bible-believing Christians will believe, as the heathen did, that
there is a world of spirits or shades in 'the nether parts of the
earth.' Ezekiel 32. 27 is a text that shows conclusively that
sh'ol is the grave where the dead lie buried. It speaks of those
who have gone down to hell (sh'ol) 'with their weapons of war:
and they had laid their swords under their heads.' They are said
to be lying there. These are the great warriors and generals
buried with their weapons.
The enormous capacity of sh'ol and death to devour men is
mentioned by the prophet Habakkuk (2. 5). The passage couples
sh'ol with death, but in isolation throws no light on the
question of the nature of sh'ol.
There is an important passage in Psalm 49. 14. The psalmist
is encouraging the godly not to be afraid or envious of the
wicked. Twice he says that man's fall has made him like the
beasts that perish. Twice in verse 14 he mentions the grave
(sh'ol). He says that men are laid in it like sheep. So sheep lie
in sh'ol. This is proof positive that it cannot be a world of
shades or spirits. There in the grave man's beauty consumes away,
but on the resurrection morning the righteous will have dominion
over the wicked. There is another reference in verse 15 which we
shall deal with shortly. Another proof of the meaning of sh ol is
found in Psalm 88. 3, where the psalmist Heman says that his life
draws nigh to the grave (sh'ol). In verse 5 he compares himself
to the slain that lie in the grave. The word here is kever
meaning a tomb. To be in sh'ol is thus to be buried in a tomb.
The 'pit' in verse 4 is Hebrew bor which we shall look at
shortly. The psalmist Ethan in Psalm 89. 48 tells us that no man
can prevent himself dying nor can he deliver his soul from
sh'ol. In Psalm 141. 7 David says 'Our bones are scattered at the
grave's mouth.' The grave here is sh'ol. It normally receives
bones (not ghosts), but here they lie unburied.
There are seven references in the book of Proverbs: I. 12;
5. 5; 7.27; 15. 11; 23. 14; 27.20; 30.16. The only one that needs
comment is 15. 11. There we are told that sh'ol is before
the Lord. If we are inclined to conclude from this fact that
sh'ol is a place of departed spirits all of whom are known to the
Lord, we are prevented from doing so by the addition to sh'ol of
the word 'destruction.' The Lord knows all the living and all the
dead as well. All will appear one day before His throne of
In the book of Job there are six references, most of which
are important. In Job 7. 9 Job tells us, 'As the cloud is
consumed and vanisheth away; so he that goeth down to the grave
(sh'ol) shall come up no more.' Thus the man that goes down to sh
&ll is like a vanishing cloud which disappears into nothing. This
does not give the impression of a surviving spirit. Job also
says that no one will come up from sh'ol. He does not mean to
deny the final resurrection of which he himself elsewhere speaks.
He means that the dead will never return to their houses and
their old life, as the following verse shows. We have already
noticed the important passage Job 14. 10-15. There is a reference
in it to sh'ol (verse 13). It is a place in which man lies down
and sleeps (verse 12). In Job 17. 13 Job again refers to sh'ol.
It is a place of darkness, corruption and the worm (ver. 14). It
is again mentioned in Job 17. 16 and translated 'the pit.' There
in sh'ol men rest together in the dust. These references are
proof positive that sh'ol means the grave. 'Departed spirits' do
not rest in the dust. In Job 21. 13 there is what we might call
a neutral reference. In isolation sh'ol might here be a lower
world of ghosts or shades. We have however noted several
passages in which sh'ol could not have this meaning, but must
mean the grave. This shows how hasty conclusions from isolated
texts can lead into error. All that Scripture says on a given
subject must be taken together and compared. In Job 26. 6 there
is a reference which is practically identical with that in
Proverbs 15. 11. In Song of Solomon 8. 6 Solomon tells us that
'love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave.' For
'cruel' the Hebrew word means 'hard.' The king means that the
grave goes on obstinately receiving men.
When we come to the New Testament there are three references
the Apocalypse which we should notice here. In Revelation 6. 8 we
have death and haidees mentioned together, the reference probably
being to Hosea 13. 14. A very interesting and informative
reference in Revelation 20. 13. The verse is speaking of the
general resurrection and makes a significant distinction between
the dead in the sea, in death and in haidees. Now if haidees were
a world of 'departed spirits' or shades, all the dead would be
there, whatever the circumstances of their death, but we see from
this verse that this is not so.
It easy to understand how the dead can be in the sea, but
what is the difference between death and haidees? It is quite
easy to understand if we remember that, as so many occurrences
of sh'ol have shown, sh'ol (haidees) is the grave where the dead
lie buried. Obviously it is different from the sea. Death
therefore, in this verse the abode or condition of those dead
neither in the sea nor buried in the grave, must refer to those
who are burnt, blown to bits or eaten by wild beasts etc. The
purpose of this threefold distinction in this verse is to
emphasize that ALL the dead, whatever their condition or
position, will rise in the resurrection on the day of judgment.
In the next verse (Revelation 20. 14) we find death and haidees
cast into the lake of fire. This means that at the end of the
world they are consigned to final and utter destruction and
will never appear or function again.
Rest in the Grave
Before we go on to look at certain uses of sh'ol and haidees
which show emphases there are three points which it would be well
to We sometimes hear the phrase spoken of someone who has 'He has
passed to his rest.' This phrase is unscriptural if we take it to
mean rest in heaven or paradise, but it is quite Scriptural if
take it to mean in the grave. The word 'rest' is used of the
grave in Job 3. 17, 18. In that chapter (verses 11-19) Job asks
why he did not die at birth. Had he done so, he would have lain
still, been quiet, slept and been at rest (ver. 13). There
is no world of living ghosts here.
He would have been as unconscious as an unformed foetus born
untimely (ver. 16). There in death or in sh'ol 'the wicked cease
from troubling; and there the weary be at rest' (ver. 17).
'There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of
the oppressor.' So that death and the grave can come as a relief
to sufferers such as Job was. How could these inspired words of
Job be true if the spirits of the ungodly are suffering in hell
after their death?
All Men together in the Grave
It is important to notice that in no reference to sh'ol is
any distinction made between the godly and the ungodly. Sometimes
the one are spoken of and sometimes the other. All are together
in the grave. Efforts to overcome what is a difficulty to those
who believe in survival have resulted in such theories as that of
two divisions in sh'ol or haidees. Even paradise has been
placed in haidees. For such theories there is no biblical
foundation whatever. But if we understand that haidees is the
grave, all difficulty vanishes. There is no distinction between
the godly and ungodly in death. The great difference comes in
The Ancient Creeds
All who know the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed will
realize that they follow Scripture in omitting reference to
survival after death and emphasising 'the resurrection of the
body, and the life everlasting' and 'the resurrection of the
dead, and the life of the world to come.' Various theories have
been built on the statement in the Apostles' Greed of Christ that
'He descended into hell,' which is commonly connected with the
idea of the survival of His soul or spirit while His body lay in
the tomb. In fact this statement was originally an alternative to
the statement that He was buried. The latter was the usual
expression. The former appeared in the Creed as used in a few
churches. When the superstitious ages began to set in, the
descent into hell was completely misunderstood and the statement
was combined with that of the burial. The fact that it originally
meant the same thing is confirmed by its absence from the Nicene
Creed, the two Creeds being parallel in their phraseology.
In the same way the phrase 'the communion of saints' is
sometimes taken to imply an active fellowship between the church
on earth and the 'departed' in heaven. Again the absence
of this phrase or its equivalent in the Nicene Creed shows that
it is a part of the preceding phrase. It is simply a definition
of 'the holy catholic church.'
Passing Alive into Sh'ol
There are two passages in Scripture which speak of men going
down quick, that is, alive, into sh'ol. They are (1). Numbers 16.
30-34. Moses declares that the proof that Korah, Dathan and
Abiram had provoked the Lord would be their descent alive into
sh'ol. In the sense in which many understand sh'ol, a land of
living spirits, everyone descends alive into it. But it is
obvious from this passage that to do so is a strange and
exceptional thing. Immediately the ground split beneath them and
swallowed them up and they went down alive into sh'ol (translated
'the pit') and the earth closed over them. This shows
conclusively that sh'ol is the grave where the bodies of the dead
lie buried under the earth. (2). Another passage is to be found
in Psalm 55. 15, where David prays that his enemies may go
down alive into sh'ol
The Depth of Sh'ol
There are nine passages in which the DEPTH of sh'ol is
emphasised. It is down below us. Few would believe today that
there is a world of living ghosts below the surface of the earth,
but it is exactly there that the dead lie buried. Some of these
passages contrast the depth of sh'ol with the height of heaven
(or the sky, there being no distinction between the two in the
language of the Bible).............
Sh'ol and the Resurrection
There are twelve passages in which sh'ol and haidees appear
in special connection with resurrection. We shall be dealing with
these in detail in our next section and will only touch on
them briefly here.
(1). 1 Samuel 2. 6: Here Hannah in inspired language tells
us that the Lord brings men down to sh'ol and brings them up in
(2. and 3). Hosea 13. 14 (twice). This is the prophet's
great prediction of victory in resurrection over the grave.
(4). Psalm 16. 10. This is David's prediction of the
resurrection of Christ. We discussed this when dealing with the
soul (Hebrew nephesh) .
(5). Psalm 30. 3. This is not a direct reference to
resurrection, but to prevention from descending into the grave,
as the second part of the verse shows.
(6). Psalm 49.15. This is a prediction of resurrection.
(7). Psalm 86. 13. The meaning is the same as that of No. 5.
(8). Matthew 16. 18. This is the saying of the Lord Jesus
that the gates of 'hell' shall not prevail His church. Very many
believe this to be a declaration that Satan will never overcome
the church. But 'hell' is never used in sense for the devil in
Scripture. The word is 'haidees' meaning ' the grave' and the
saying is a promise of resurrection for every true believer.
(9 and 10). Acts 2. 27, 31. Here we have the apostle Peter's
quotation from the sixteenth Psalm, which is a prophecy of the
resurrection of Christ. We dealt with the passage when we were
studying the Hebrew word nephesh, when we found that 'my soul'
Haidees here as elsewhere means 'the grave' where the Lord
Jesus was lying.
(11). 1 Corinthians 15. 55. It is customary now for Greek
editors to substitute thanate meaning 'death' in this passage for
haidees meaning 'the grave,' but judgment on literary grounds
might well appear to favour the latter. The passage is adapted by
the apostle from Hosea 13. 14. If haidees is the right reading,
it means 'he grave,' as it is defeated by the resurrection of the
No one doubts the meaning in this case, but perhaps few
realize that the Greek word is the same as is often confusedly
(12). Revelation 1.18. Here we find the risen Christ
declaring, 'I have the keys of death and of hell.' 'Hell' here
is haidees, meaning 'the grave.' There are no keys of hell, if we
confine the meaning, as we should do, to the lake of fire, the
place of destruction of the lost. No one will ever come out of
it. The Lord's words here mean that He will open the doors of
death and the grave and bring His people out of them in a
The Sorrows of Sh'ol
There are two passages which speak of the sorrows or pains
of sh'ol. These are to be found in 2 Samuel 22.6 and Psalm 18.5,
two recensions of the same psalm of David, where speaking in the
name of Christ he says, 'The sorrows of hell (sh'ol) compassed me
about: the snares of death prevented me.' Misled by the
translation 'hell' and by the idea of hell as a place of eternal
torment, many have supposed that the psalmist was speaking of the
torments of hell. However, had he experienced them, he would not
have been alive in this world to say so. These sorrows and pains
are those that accompany dying. They came in acute measure to the
Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. The same is true of verse 3 of
the anonymous Psalm 116: 'the sorrows of death compassed me, and
the pains of hell gat hold upon me.'
Figurative Language about Sh'ol
There are three passages in Scripture in which figurative,
allegorical or poetic language is used about sh'ol and one in
which the word itself is used in a figurative though easily
intelligible sense. As we approach these passages, we must bear
in mind the consistent and unmistakable language of Scripture
about sh'ol, which describes it as the grave where the dead
lie buried in the dust in profound and unconscious sleep.
Our first passage is Isaiah 14. 9-20. The prophet is
addressing the great king of Babylon (ver. 4). When the king
comes down to the grave, the kings and leaders are pictured as
rising from their thrones on which they were seated in the grave
and taunting him with his weakness. The impossibility of this
passage being literal is proved by the fact that, if the kings
were 'departed spirits' in sh'ol, the last thing that they would
be doing would be sitting upon thrones. In verse 11 the actual
state of the great king in the grave is described: 'the worm is
spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.' Again in verses 18
and 20 we read that all the kings lie in magnificent tombs and
are buried. This is the real state of things. Of the king of
Babylon it is said (ver. 19, 20) that he is cast out of his grave
like a carcase trodden under foot and will not be joined with the
rest in burial. This language does not fit 'departed spirits,'
but it fits the buried dead.
Similarly in Ezekiel 32. 21 we find 'the strong among the
mighty' speaking to Pharaoh 'out of the midst of hell' (sh'ol,
the grave). In verse 31 the prophet says that when Pharaoh sees
them there he is comforted over his own fate. This means that the
sight and memory of great kings of bygone days dead and buried
bring a message to Pharaoh and he is less troubled when he
approaches defeat and death at the thought of them.
Jonah 2. 2 needs to be mentioned at this point. Jonah called
to the Lord when he was inside the fish. He says, 'out of the
belly of hell (sh'ol) cried I.' He here confuses intentionally
in a poetic phrase the grave in which men are normally buried and
the inside of the fish in which he himself was at the time
buried. He emphasises his burial and his helplessness by
comparing his position to one buried in the grave. He was not
actually in sh'ol, but he was in a place which in many respects
was like it. The phrase also carries the meaning that the place
in which he was was as terrible as sh'ol.........."
Basil Atkinson next tries to answer the questions about
Lazarus and the Rich Man parable found in Luke 16. His effort is
commendable, but serves little justice and help in the overall
subject of what the Bible teaches on death, hell, and
resurrection. I have covered this parable of Jesus' in a
separate in-depth study. I ask the reader and searcher for truth
to study my article (Keith Hunt).
The Silence of the Grave
" There are four passages which speak of the absence of
praise, the silence and the lack of activity in sh'ol. The first
is Hezekiah's utterance in his beautiful inspired song of
thanksgiving (Isaiah 38. 18). We have already noticed this
passage in which death is spoken of as well as sh'ol. Hezekiah
says that the grave (sh'ol) cannot praise the Lord. In Psalm 6. 5
David says the same thing: 'in the grave (sh'ol) who shall give
thee thanks?' Here too sh'ol is joined with 'death' and we have
already noticed the passage.
The third passage shows us sh'ol as a place of silence:
'Let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave
(sh'ol)' (Psalm 31. 17). Finally we find absence of activity and
consciousness in the grave (sh'ol): 'there is no work, nor
device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou
goest' (Ecclesiastes 9. 10).
Sh'ol used for Second Death
There are three passages in the Old Testament where it is
possible that the word sh'ol is used for the second death. There
is no Hebrew word in the Old Testament corresponding to the
New Testament geenna meaning 'hell,' the place of the destruction
of the lost, so that it is possible that sh'ol could be used to
express it, although we know from Revelation 20. 14 that haidees
(sh'ol) will itself be destroyed in the lake of fire. The
passages are Psalm 9. 17; 31. 17; Job 24. 19........
In a few instances the Hebrew word bor translated 'the pit'
is used as the equivalent of sh'ol. The passages are Isaiah 14.
15, 19; 38. 18; Ezekiel 26. 20 (twice); 31. 14, 16; 32. 18, 23,
24, 25, 29, 30; Zechariah 9. 11; Psalm 28. 1; 30. 3; 88. 4; 143.
7; Proverbs 1. 12; 28. 17. The only two passages that need
comment are Zechariah 9. 11 and Proverbs 1. 12. In the former the
pit without water is sh'ol, the grave. The prisoners are the
godly dead, whose Lord ('thy prisoners') has the keys of the
grave (Rev. 1. 18). With these keys He opens the pit and sends
out the prisoners as a result of His blood-shedding by which He
made a covenant with them (Matthew 26. 28). In Proverbs 1. 12 the
thief compares the damage that he intends to do to his victims to
their consumption by sh'ol, which he identifies with the pit.
The pit of destruction in Psalm 55. 23 and the pit in Psalm
69. 15 are the same thing, but the Hebrew word here is b'er,
which means literally a well, not bor, a water cistern, or pit.
Our study of the Hebrew words for 'death' and 'the grave'
with their Greek New Testament equivalents and their usage has
shown us that men lie asleep in death till they are raised at the
last day and that the grave (sh'ol, haidees) is a place of
darkness and silence where there is no activity, no remembrance
of God and no praise of Him........ We can but conclude that
natural immortality, what is called 'the immortality of the
soul,' does not exist, and we are prepared to go on to our third
section and examine the glorious victory over death by which God
brings His children home to Him in eternal life. Death thus
emerges as the deprivation of life, the 'enemy' of mankind (1
Corinthians 15. 26), the first instalment of the penalty of Sin,
a deprivation that would have been permanent and final, as it is
in the case of the beasts, were it not turned into sleep by the
assured hope of resurrection. Only once in the Old Testament do
we find poor suffering Job speaking of the grave as a relief,
where 'he wicked cease from troubling' and 'the weary be at
rest' and his utterance is matched by that of the Holy Spirit in
Revelation 14. 13, telling us that the blessed dead rest from
their labours. This rest is not in a life of activity in
glory, but temporarily in the grave.
We may strengthen this conclusion by referring to the
following Hebrew and Greek words used on occasion to describe
death. We need not burden the reader with full quotations, but
urge all those who are interested or who may still doubt our
conclusions to look up the occurrences of the words in a
(1). shaghath, translated. variously 'pit,' 'corruption,'
'ditch,' 'destruction,' 'grave' and used eight times directly of
(2). shoah, translated 'desolation,' 'storm,' 'wasteness,'
'destruction,' 'to destroy,' 'desolate' and referring once
directly to death in Psalm 63. 9.
(3). sho, translated 'destructions' and referring to death
in Psalm 35. 17.
(4) mashghith, translated 'destroy,' 'corruption,' 'trap,'
'destroying,' 'utterly' (marg. 'to destruction'), 'destruction'
and referring several times to death.
(5). ed, translated 'calamity' and 'destruction.'
(6). avaddon, translated 'destruction,' used with reference
to death and sh'ol.
(7). avaddoh, translated 'destruction' and connected with
sh'ol in Proverbs 27. 20.
(8). apoleia, the Greek word meaning 'destruction,' used
once of death in Acts 25. 16, though the reading is doubtful.
(9). olethros, a second Greek word meaning 'destruction'
used once with the probable reference to physical death in 1
Corinthians 5. 5.
The usage of the following verbs will strengthen the case
(1). avad, meaning 'to destroy,' 'perish,' 'be lost,' used
directly of death some thirty-nine times.
(2). gharam, meaning to devote or utterly destroy, used some
twenty-three times directly of death.
(3). saphah, meaning to consume, used directly of death
seven and perhaps eight times.
(4). shaghath, meaning to destroy, and used five times
directly of death.
(5). shamad, meaning to destroy and used eighteen times
directly of death.
(6). apollumi, the Greek word meaning to destroy, perish or
be lost, corresponding to Hebrew avad (see Revelation 9. 11),
used about twenty-eight times directly of death.
(7). exolothreuo, a strong word meaning to destroy utterly,
used of death in Acts 3. 23 in quotation from Leviticus 23. 29.
In all the occurrences of these words whether in the Old
Testament or the New there is no hint that death as we know it
means anything but destruction in the sense in which we speak of
an animal being destroyed........"
Basil Atkinson, while a short mention of Elijah and Moses
appearing with Christ on the mount of transfiguration, does not
attempt any real depth explanation of the event.
This I do in a separate study, to which I refer the reader
With this we conclude up to about half the book written by
Atkinson. We shall put most of the second half of the book under
two separate studies. One will be called "The Resurrection"
and the other "The Doom of the Lost."
Complied August 2000
All articles and studies by Keith Hunt may be copied, published,
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nothing will be changed (except for spelling and punctuation
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