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What Are Sheol and Hades?

photo In its original languages, the Bible uses the Hebrew word sheʼohl′ and its Greek equivalent hai′des more than 70 times. Both words are related to death. Some Bible translations render them as “grave,” “hell,” or “pit.” However, in most languages there are no words that convey the precise sense of these Hebrew and Greek words. The New World Translation therefore uses the words “Sheol” and “Hades” in footnotes. What do these words really mean? Let us note how they are used in different Bible passages.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 states: “There is no work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the Grave [“Sheol,” footnote], where you are going.” Does this mean that Sheol refers to a specific, or individual, grave site where we may have buried a loved one? No. When the Bible refers to a specific burial place, or grave, it uses other Hebrew and Greek words, not sheʼohl′ and hai′des. (Genesis 23:7-9; Matthew 28:1) Also, the Bible does not use the word “Sheol” for a grave where several individuals are buried together, such as a family grave or a mass grave.—Genesis 49:30, 31.

To what kind of place, then, does “Sheol” refer? God’s Word indicates that “Sheol,” or “Hades,” refers to something much more than even a large mass grave. For instance, Isaiah 5:14 notes that the Grave, or Sheol, “has enlarged itself and has opened its mouth wide without limit.” Although Sheol has already swallowed, so to speak, countless dead people, it always seems to hunger for more. (Proverbs 30:15, 16) Unlike any literal burial site, which can hold only a limited number of the dead, ‘the Grave is never satisfied.’ (Proverbs 27:20) That is, Sheol never becomes full. It has no limits. Sheol, or Hades, is thus not a literal place in a specific location. Rather, it is the common grave of dead mankind, the figurative location where most of mankind sleep in death.

The Bible teaching of the resurrection helps us to gain further insight into the meaning of “Sheol” and “Hades.” God’s Word associates Sheol and Hades with the sort of death from which there will be a resurrection. * (Job 14:13; Acts 2:31; Revelation 20:13)

[Footnote.] * In contrast, the dead who will not be raised are described as being, not in Sheol, or Hades, but “in Gehenna.” (Matthew 5:30; 10:28; 23:33) Like Sheol and Hades, Gehenna is not a literal place. [End of Footnote.]

God’s Word also shows that those in Sheol, or Hades, include not only those who have served Jehovah but also many who have not served him. (Genesis 37:35; Psalm 55:15) Therefore, the Bible teaches that there will be “a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”—Acts 24:15.


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