Theology of Universalism
By Thomas B. Thayer, 1862

Chapter 12
The Scriptural Doctrine Concerning Hell

Section II

Hades -- Its Scriptural Import and usage. "The Rich Man and Lazarus."

Hades is found eleven times only in the New Testament, and is rendered by the word Hell ten times, and once by the word Grave. 1 Cor. 15:55. It is universally allowed by critics that Hades corresponds in meaning with Sheol; and this is confirmed by the fact that the Septuagint, [note 1] which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptrues, made in part about three hundred years before Christ, has rendered Sheol by the word Hades sixty times out of sixty-four instances where it occurs. However, with regard to the meaning of the word, in the New Testament, it may be well to have independent testimony.

[note 1: The Septuagint, or Seventy, sometimes written the LXX., is so called from the fact or tradition of its being the joint labor of seventy learned Jews in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus. It was in use in our Savior's time]
Meaning and usage of Hades. A theologian, equally learned as a scholar, judicious as a critic, and impartial as a commentator, says of Hades, --

"In my judgment, it ought never in Scripture to be rendered Hell, at least in the sense wherein that word is universally understood by Christians. It is very plain that neither in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, nor in the New, does the word Hades convey the meaning which the present English word Hell, in the Christian usage, always conveys to our minds. The attempt to illustrate this would be unnecessary, as it is hardly now pretended by any critic that this is the acceptation of the term in the Old Testament."[note 2]

[note 2: DR. CAMPBELL, "Preliminary Dissertations," Diss. Vi. Part ii. LE CLERC affirms that "neither Hades nor Sheol ever signify in the Sacred Scripture the abode of evil spirits, but only the sepulchre, or the state of the dead." And this is also the testimony of GROTIUS and other learned men. -- De Elingenda, inter Dissentientes Christianos, Sententia Liber. par. vii. See also POOLE's "Continuators on Like," xvi. 19-30. These testimonies, which might be added to indefinitely, are enough to show that Hades in the New Testament is simply the Greek form of what Sheol is in the Old; and therefore that "Hell" does not convey to the people of this day the same idea which Hades conveyed to the people in the time of Christ. It is plain, too, that at the time our translation was made, "Hell" in English did not bear the exclusive meaning it has now. The Apostle's Creed, so called, is proof of this, when it says, that Christ after his crucifixion "descended into hell!" Surely the Protestant English Church did not mean to say that Christ went into a place of endless woe. Therefore, as Prof. STUART says, "Hell, in this document, means the underworld, the world of the dead, and so it has ben construed by the most intelligent critics of the English Church." It has been very correctly said that "Hell, in its primitive signification, corresponded perfectly in meaning with Hades. It comes from the Anglo-Saxon, helan, to cover or hide; hence the tiling or slating of a house is called, in Cornwall, helling to this day; and the covers of books in Lancashire by the same name -- so the literal import of the original word Hades was formerly well expressed by it." CAMPBELL, DODDRIDGE, CLARKE, PARKHURST, and others. I saw lately in an English newspaper, an account of an accident which happened to a Slater, who "fell from the roof while engaged in helling it."]

And now let us turn to the New Testament, and we shall find that Hades, in its literal usage, is the equivalent of Sheol, signifying,

I. The grave, the underworld, or place of the dead.

The first pasage to be noted is 1 Cor. 15:55. "O death where is thy sting? O grave (hades) where is thy victory." Here hades is properly translated, the resurrection being very appropriately celebrated as victory over the grave. And the true meaning of hades is seen by the law of parallelism, before noticed, which often runs into the New Testament; for though the language is Greek, the structure and idiomatic forms are largely Hebrew. Thus:

"O Death where is thy sting:
O grave where is thy victory."

The thought is simply repeated; "grave," or hades, answering to "death," the "victory" being taken from one, and the "sting" from the other. And the thought is substantially that of Hosea 13:14:

"O Death I will be thy plagues:
O grave (Sheol) I will be thy destruction."

The same connection or association of Death and Hades appears in every passage in the book of Revelations in which the word occurs, as follows -- 1:18; 6:8, 20:13-14:

" I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell (hades) and of death."

"And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell (hades) followed with him."

"And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell (hades) delivered up the dead which were in them:"

"And death and hell (hades) were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death."

With regard to these passages, it is plain enough that the Revelator employed the word hades to signify the region of the dead, or the kingdom of death. Death and Hades are both personified, or represented as persons; and in chapter 4:8, Death is a king or leader, followed by his hosts, the inhabitants of Hades, or the Dead. And an eminent critic says that the "Hades of the Apocalypse, is the genuine Sheol of the Hebrews; with the exception, perhaps, that the Hebrew sacred books have nowhere represented hades as having a king over it." This poetical representation, however, is in perfect keeping with the strongly metaphorical style of the book.

Acts 2:27, 31. " Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (hades), neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." Of this quotation from David, Psalm 16:10, Peter says, " He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell (hades), neither his flesh did see corruption." Of course, the meaning of hades or hell, in these texts, is grave, or realm of death, as in the preceding passages. It is the same, also, in the following: " Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell (hades) shall not prevail against it." Matt. 16:18. Le Clerc translates "gates of hell" portae sepulchri, or "the gates of the sepulchre," or the grave; and says the meaning of the passage is, that the church shall never die, or become extinct. Stuart, and others, take a similar view.[note 3]

[note 3: The same figure is found in Isa. 38:10. "I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go the gates of the grave" (Sheol); Psalm 9:13, "Thou liftest me up from the gates of death."; 107:18, "They draw near to the gates of death." Sheol or Hades is represented as the Underworld, the entrance to which is shut up by gates; and in Rev. 1:18, Christ is said to have the "keys of hell" (hades), the gates of which he opened by his Resurrection.]

II. Hades is used also as a figure to represent a condition of extreme suffering, or utter destruction.

" And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell (hades):" Matt. 11:23. The meaning of this is too obvious to require explanation.

The only remaining passage is Luke 16:19-31. " And in hell (hades) he lift up his eyes, being in torment." In order to understand this, we must note the following particulars:

1. It is not a history; but a parable. Not a literal relation of facts respecting individuals, but a figurative representation of events touching the Jews (the Rich Man,) on one hand, and the Gentiles (Lazarus,) on the other; as in the parables of the unfaithful Husbandmen, the Marriage Feast, the Master of the House, etc. Dr. Bloomfield, in his Greek Testament, says, "The best commentators, both ancient and modern, with reason consider it as a parable; since all the circumstances seem parabolical, and a story very similar to it, is found in the Babylonian Gemara." So Whitby.

2. If a parable, it must be interpreted as a parable. We must not expect to find a meaning for every particular, but look only to the main scope and design of the parable. The "five brethren," the "drop of water," "cooling the tongue," etc., have no more special meaning, than "the fatted calf," "the ring," "the shoes," in the parable of the Prodigal Son. "Comparison is not to be extended," says Professor Stuart, "to all the circumstances of the allegory. Thus, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the point to be illustrated, is the extent of the duty of beneficence. Most of the circumstances go to make up merely the veri-similitude of the narration, so tht it may give pleasure to him who hears or reads it."

3. "The point to be illustrated" in the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus, is the rejection and punishment of the Jews, and the calling of the Gentiles into the privileges and blessings of the Gospel. This is the main scope and design of the parable, and the leading particulars have significance as follows:

(a) The Rich Man, clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day, represents the Jews, their wealth of spiritual privileges and blessings, "because that unto them were committed the oracles of God" (Rom. 3:2), and they were favored with the ministry of prophets and holy men.

(b) Lazarus, the beggar, feeding on crumbs, and full of sores, represents the Gentiles, their spiritual poverty and ignorance.

(c) Their Death, represents respectively the change in their conditions, which took place on the setting up of the Gospel kingdom in the earth. The Rich Man dead, is the Jewish nation dead to, or deprived of, all its former privileges and gifts of divine knowledge. Lazarus dead, is the Gentiles dead to their former life; as death is always the opposite of life.

(d) Lazarus in Abraham's bosom, represents the Gentiles translated into the new life of Gospel faith, and knowledge, and salvation.

(e) The Rich Man in torment represents the Jews suffering the punishment of their sins, in the destruction of their city and temple, and the sore calamities which have fallen on them ever since.

(f) The great gulf represents the antagonism of unbelief between Jews and Christians (Gentiles,) and the utter want of religious sympathy and fellowship which separates the two people.

(g) The request of the Rich Man respecting his five brethren, and the reply of Abraham, are only put in to show the obstinacy of the Jews in their refusal to believe in Christ as the Messiah; since, if their own scriptures (Moses and the Prophets,) could not convince them, neither would they be persuaded "if one went unto them from the dead." And this was literally and singularly verified; for when a real Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus, the chief priests and pharisees not only refused to believe, but were so enraged that they sought to kill both Jesus and Lazarus. John 11:12.

The same thing expressed in the metaphors of this parable, is stated in direct terms in other passages: "The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." Matt. 21:43. "It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth." Acts 13:46-47. "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God." or, as Matthew has it, " the children of the kingdom shall be cast out;" Luke 13:28-29; Matt. 8:11:12. Of course, "the kingdom of God" cannot refer to the immortal state, for those in that heaven, the children of that kingdom, are not to be cast out. The kingdom here is the Gospel kingdom on earth, "the children of the kingdom" the Jews, so-called because of the special favors and privileges bestowed on them -- and they are cast out, and the Gentiles received in their place; just s the Rich Man and Lazarus change conditions, the one deprived of his "good things," and "tormented," and the other delivered from his "evil things," and "comforted."[note 4]

[note 4: Some of the most eminent modern orthodox commentators allow of this application. Dr. GILL, the learned Baptist critic, makes a two-fold application, and says of the latter, "it may also be understood of the political and ecclesiastical death of the Jewish people, which lay in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and in the abolition of the temple worship and the whole ceremonial law, and a death of afflictions by captivity and calamities of every kind, attending them ever since." In hell in torments. "This," he says, "may regard the vengeance of God on the Jews at the destruction of Jerusalem," etc. LIGHTFOOT, of the Westminster Assembly, says, "the main scope and desigh of the parable seems this, -- to hint the destruction of the unbelieving Jews; who though they had Moses and the prophets, did not believe them." BATE, of the English Church, takes the same view, makiing the death of Lazarus the introduction of the Gentiles into the Church of God, and the death of the rich man the rejection of the Jews. See the citations at large in PAIGE's "Selections from Eminent Commentators." This view of the parable is to be found also among the Fathers. AUGUSTINE (A.D. 400,) says, "In Divite intelliganture superbi Judaeorum, ignorantes Dei justitiam, &c. -- Quaest. Evang., lib. iii. q. 38. GREGORY the Great, A.D. 550, says, "Dives iste Judaicum populum designat, &c. Hom. 40 in Evang and in Moral., lib. xxv. c.13. THEOPHYLACT, A.D., 1050, elaborates this as a probable interpretation. -- Trench on the Parable.]

Thus we see that while "Abraham's bosom," which is a Jewish idiom or phrase for the blessed life of paradise, represents the exaltation of the Gentile world to the privileges of God's chosen people; Hades, or the state of death, represents the national death of the Jews, or their utter desolation and ruin as a people.

But we discover from this parable, that in the time of Christ, the Jews had partially adopted the pagan ideas respecting Hades, or the Underworld, viz: that it contains separate apartments for the good and bad; and that in Tartarus, the portion assigned to the wicked, there were torments, flames, etc., in punishment of their sins.

This, and 2 Pet. 2:4, are the only passages in the Bible which allude to this fact. Josephus, however, confirms it. He speaks of suicides being "received into the darkest part of Hades; and says the Pharisees held that under the earth (Hades,) there are rewards and punishments accordingly as they have been virtuous or vicious in this life. (Jewish War, Book iii. Chapter 8, sec. 5. See also the Jewish Antiquities, Book xviii, chapter i, sec. 2-6.)

The Jews had no such notions at the close of the Old Testament, as we have seen; and during the four hundred years which intervened between Malachi and Christ, there was no prophet, no revelation whatever. They could not, therefore, have obtained them from any divine source. Whence, then, did they obtain them? There is only one answer possible -- they borrowed them from the heathen, with whom they were current; they adopted them from the Greek and Roman mythology, from which they had taken many other doctrines and opinions not found in the Law or the Prophets. Hence the words of the Savior, "In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." Matt. 15:6-9. [note 5]

[note 5: The truth is, that in the four hundred years of their intercourse with the heathen, during which they wre without any divine teacher or message, Pagan philosophy and superstition had, so far as regarded the future state, completely pushed aside the Law of Moses and the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and set up in place of them the most extravagant inventions and fables respecting the invisible world. See this abundantly proved in the author's "Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment." cap. iv.]

Now, can any Christian believe that our Savior adopted these superstitions which the Jews had borrowed from the heathen? It will not do to day that he revealed the doctrine of torments in a hell after death, because both Jews and Heathen believed it before he came. If, therefore, he teaches the doctrine in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, he teaches a heathen doctrine; for it is certain he did not take it from the Old Testament, because it is not there; and he was not sent to reveal it, because if it be true, it was already revealed to the heathen, or they had found it out, without a revelation, ages before his coming!

It is plain, therefore, that the Savior simply employs this heathenish notion of the Jews, in parable, as an illustration, just as he speaks of Beelzebub, the Philistine god of flies (Matt. 10:25; 12:24,) or Mammon, the god of riches (Matt. 6:24;) without recognizing the existence of either, or sanctioning belief in such falsehoods and absurdities.

We do the same thing now, when we speak of "St. Vitus' Dance," "King's Evil," "St. Anthony's Fire," without the least faith in the superstition which gives these names to the particular diseases they designate. And Universalists and others use the popular terms "Orthodox," and "Evangelical," merely for the sake of convenience, without admitting that those designated are Orthodox or Evangelical.

To argue that Christ taught or sanctioned the doctrine of this Jewish parable respecting the future state, instead of simply using it for illustration, is to argue that he believed it as there set forth. But does any one suppose that Christ believed that heaven and hell are separated by a great gulf, across which the inhabitants can see each other, and talk together? That the damned are tormented in literal fire and flame? That they have tongues whose pain could be eased by a drop, or an ocean, of water? That they petition Abraham, or any one, to send messengers from heaven to their friends on earth, to warn them against the torments of hell? Of course, he believed nothing of the kind; nor is he at all responsible for the truth of such pagan dogmas, because he alludes to them in this parable, for the purpose of enforcing a warning or lesson. [note 6]

[note 6: Dr. BLOOMFIELD, of the English Church, says, "No responsibility on our Lord's part is involved in this case; for our best Commentators and Theologians are agreed that in parabolic narrations, provided the doctrines inculcated be strictly true, the terms in which they are expressed, may be adapted to the prevailing notions of those to whom they are addressed." -- Greek Test., in loco. Dr. MACKNIGHT, Scotch Presbyterian, confesses "that our Lord's descriptions (in this parable) are not drawn from the writings of the Old Testament, but have a remarkable affinity to the descriptions which the Grecian poets have given. If from these resemblances it is thought the parable is formed on the Grecian mythology, it will not at all follow that our Lord approved of what the common people thought or spake concerning those matters, agreeably to the notions of the Greeks."]

Thus closes the examination of the Scriptural usage of Hades, which as we have seen, is in its literal sense the equivalent of Sheol in every text, save the last, in which appear the heathen notions respecting its being a place of rewards and punishments, or the region in which are located both hell and heaven. The following facts are worthy of note:

1. If Hades is "hell" in the ordinary definition of the word, then the soul of Christ was in hell after his crucifixion. "Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell. He spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell." Acts 2:27, 31.

2. It is equally true of all in hell, that they will not be left there; for the Revelator says, "Death and Hell delivered up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to his works." Rev. 20:13. If it be said that, after they are judged they will be sent back again, we demand the proof. But even it be so, we still have to note --

3. That hell is to be utterly destroyed. To say nothing of 1 Cor. 15:55, " O death, where is thy sting? O hell (hades), where is thy victory?" we have the direct testimony -- "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fore. This is the second death." Rev. 20:14. And these two passages are the exact equivalent of Hosea 14:14. " I will ransom them from the power of the grave (hell, Sheol -- Hades); I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave (hell, Sheol -- Hades), I will be thy destruction:" Dr. Campbell says, on Rev. 20:14, "if we interpret Hades, 'hell,' in the Christian sense of the word, the whole passage is rendered nonsense. Hell is represented as being cast into hell; for so the lake of fire, which is in this place denominated the second death, is universally interpreted." The phrase "cast into the lake of fire" is a figure of utter destruction. It is simply saying "death and hell were destroyed."

4. Of course, then, Hades, "hell," is not a place of endless torment, otherwise it could not be destroyed. Whatever, therefore, the interpretation given to the narration of Dives and Lazarus, whether regarded as a parable, or literal history, it is plain that the Rich Man was not in a place of endless torment. Or, in the more general phrase of Prof. Stuart: "Whatever the state of either the righteous or the wocked may be, whilst in Hades, that state will certainly cease, and be exchanged for another at the general resurrection." [note 7]

[note 7: Those who would see an argument for Hades as an intermediate state, a view which seems to be growing among the sects, may read an article in the Baptist "Christian Review" for April, 1862, "The Righteous Dead, between Death and the Resurrection;" and on the other side, see "Bibliotheca Sacra" for January, 1862, "The Spirits in Prison." The last writer thinks the idea of future opportunities for repentance and salvation is "gaining new adherents at the present time;" and refers to Rev. B. H. WILSON's essay on the "National Church," in the "Recent Inquiries in Theology by eminent English Churchmen." In this essay, the author, alluding to the Limbus Infantum of the Catholic Church, says there may be mansions hereafter for those who are "infants in spiritual development -- nurseries, or seed grounds, where the undeveloped may grow up under new conditions, the stunted become strong, and the perverted restored," and that finally when "Christ shall have surrendered his kingdom to the Great Father, all, both small and great, shall find a refuge in the bosom of the universal parent, to repose, or be quickened into higher life, in the ages to come, according to his will." p. 232, American edition. Dr. WATTS, even, thought that "the perfections of God will contrive a way of escape for the repentant sinner hereafter," though he has not revealed this. -- World to Come, Works, i. 738.]

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