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A Critical Inquiry into the proper meaning of certain Hebrew and Greek words used in the Old and New Testaments, which clearly establish a Middle State.
The same things uttered in Hebrew, and translated into another tongue, have not the same force in them, and not only these things, but the Law itself, and the Prophets, and the rest of the Books, have no small difference when spoken in their own language.
Prologue to Ecclesiasticus, by an ancient unknown Author.
THE doctrine of a Middle State may undeniably be established by a careful investigation into the meanings of several words made use of in Sacred Writ; and, as far as I can find, none ever made the inquiry with a knowledge of the languages in which these books were first written, and with impartiality, but were satisfied that no other conclusion could be drawn from them.
Those words I allude to are aw (Sheol†) - (Gehinnom) in the Hebrew; 'Adns (Hades) and yeevva (Gehenna) in the Greek. These words ought to be interpreted in perfect accordance with the context to which they stand related, and should be uniformly translated by the same English words.
* Taken also by Mr. Parkhurst, as a motto to his Hebrew Dictionary. + Spelt sometimes Shaul or Scheol in English letters, according as the Hebrew is read with or without the points; in the same way, Keber is by some written Kober.
It ought also to be attended to, whether the words in our versions now signify exactly the same as in the days when our translators first adopted them.
Sheol is by many translators considered as synonymous with hell, as this latter word is now commonly used, and where it was too obvious that it must bear some other meaning, they render it the grave, but it properly signifies the region or dwelling of the souls of the dead, which is the same as the place of the departed, because, as Bishop Horsley observes,*. 5,-"the only general place of residence of the dead collectively, is that of the departed spirit." This word is rendered into the Greek by "aons (Hades) in the translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew into that language by the seventy two learned Jews (hence called the Septuagint translation) about 250 years before the birth of Christ, and referred to by his apostles. Hades is now acknowledged by all the best scholars to refer exclusively to the unseen world of separate spirits, the truth of which, a very little consideration of the context in various places where the word is used, will clearly show must be its meaning.
It is well known that the word which we commonly translate hell is in the Latin Infernum. The Greek "adŋs (hades) is the same as 'äidŋs (aides) which merely signifies a place out of sight, or invisible to us, as in Homer's Iliad, A. “ Πολλὰς δ ̓ ̓ιφθίμους ψυχὰς "Αϊδι προΐαψεν.” Dispatched a great many heroic souls to Hades-and is therefore put to signify the common receptacle of the souls of all men, whether they be righteous or wicked. Thus the ancient Greeks understood the words "Aïons, and "aons, and they believed there were two receptacles in it, one for the good and another for the wicked.
The Elysian fields, according to the Pagan notion of them, were separated from Tartarus, or the dwelling of the wicked, by such barriers as were not to be got over, and by a river of fire, which prevented all passage from one to the other ;†
* Commentary on Hosea, p. 200. See also Bishop Patrick on Genesis, chap. xxxv. + Virg. Æneid. Lib. vi.
so in the Scripture account, there is a great gulf mentioned which separates those who are resting with Abraham from the wicked which are in Tartarus. In the Book of Wisdom, the wicked are represented as witnesses to the glory of good men. "When they see him, they shall be vexed with humble fear, and shall be amazed at his wonderful deliverance, and shall say within themselves, This is he whom we sometimes had in derision, and in a parable of reproach." Some may think that this prophecy refers to heaven, and not to the middle state, but as in the eternal states the wicked are to be in outer darkness, it is not probable that they have those in view who are in heaven, and it is not revealed to us that this shall be the case, but we know that in Hades the good and bad shall see each other, they being in one general although divided place.
Some of the greatest and most ancient of the Fathers of the Christian Church understood that Hades as used in Scripture meant the common receptacle of departed spirits. Vossius gives us a full account of this matter in his Theses Theologice et Historica, printed at the Hague in 1658. In his Disputatio 6ta. "Of the departed souls," he says that it is reasonable to believe that all saints go ad inferna to Hades ; to a place of refreshment until the second coming of Christ. In the Commentaries on St. Peter's Epistles, which are attributed to St. Ambrose, or to St. Athanasius, but certainly of a very early date, it is said upon the fifth chap. of the Epistle to the Romans, "the good shall be in inferno sed superiori, in the higher hell, because they cannot ascend into heaven." Now in this place, hell, or infernum, can be no other than that part of Hades into which the souls of the just are immediately carried on their death.*
It is more to ascertain the ancient meaning attached to words relating to the invisible state, than to show the general opinions in the matter of the Fathers, that the present Chapter is directed, and these will be found to differ considerably from the sense in which we now understand them, but if we wish to know the true meaning of old writings, we must, of course, investigate the sense which was intended by them when first written, or as near these times as possible. It would be unfair to writers of the present day to
Thus, to be in Hades, or apud infernos in the early days of Christianity, signified only the being in one or other of the receptacles of Hades, and this may be easily proved by many passages out of the primitive Fathers, such as Irenæus, Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius, Basil, Athanasius, &c. and the greater part of them did not imagine that the souls of the righteous, even after our Lord's resurrection, went up to the highest heavens, or indeed any higher than paradise, which they reckoned to be the highest place in Hades.
Vossius affirms that the Fathers who maintained, some that the souls of the faithful go straight to heaven, and others that they go to Hades, do not really differ, for both meant no more than that such souls are happy after death, and those of the wicked miserable; the happiest mansions in Hades must indeed be a heaven of happiness in comparison with this earth. None thought that either the righteous are so happy, or the wicked so miserable before the resurrection as they shall be after it, or that there are not degrees of happiness and misery in Hades. To say that the separate souls of all the good go direct to a heavenly state, meaning paradise, is very different from intending to affirm that they go to the highest heaven,-at once to the place of their everlasting reward.
Perkins, in his Demonstration of the Problem, says, "that the ancients generally assert that the faithful departed remain out of heaven in certain hidden receptacles without being allowed to see God until the day of judgment." Now, these hidden receptacles are plainly Hades or infernum.
"We now come," says Dr. Burnet, "to treat of hell. By which word, the Christian authors understood the place and the state of the damned, and of men and demons, wicked and miserable. The Latins by their hell sometimes denote
interpret their works five hundred years hence, by the sense alone which their words may have acquired after that time, and very different meanings are often attached at different periods to the same words. It should be remembered that the principal writings which we are now considering, are at least eighteen hundred years old, and were written in a different language from the version in which we are used to read them by translation.
the state of the dead in general, which the Greeks call "adŋ (haden), a state of absconding, or, if I may call it so, of invisibility, in which sense and signification it is used in the Sacred Writings, as by learned men has been abundantly shown. But use has obtained among many, that by the word hell, is understood the prison of miserable and wicked creatures, who are departed this life, and the place of their punishment and their torment, and that in regions under us according to the acceptation of the word.”*
In the works of Josephus, the Jewish historian,† there is a discourse addressed to the Greeks concerning Hades, illustrative of the belief of the Jews relative to that place. As this will more fully confirm what has already been said of it, and prove the sense in which that people must have understood our Saviour's words on several remarkable occasions, I shall quote from it what seems best calculated to explain these references.
"Now as to Hades, wherein the souls of the righteous and unrighteous are detained, it is necessary to speak of it.” "This region is allotted as a place of custody for souls, in which angels are appointed as guardians to them.”—“The just are now indeed confined in Hades, but not in the same place wherein the unjust are confined."-"For there is one descent into this region, at whose gate we believe there stands an archangel with an host; which gate when those pass through, that are conducted down by the angels appointed over souls, they do not go the same way; but the just are guided to the right hand, and are led with hymns, sung by the angels appointed over that place, into a region of light, in which the just have dwelt from the beginning of the world; not constrained by necessity, but enjoying the prospect of the good things they see, and rejoicing in the expectation of those new enjoyments which will be peculiar to every one of
De Statu Mortuorum. Translated in the text.
Josephus was born while Jesus Christ lived, and was, as he himself says, skilful in the knowledge of the sacred books of the prophets, being himself a priest, and the son of a priest.
See Joseph. de Bell. Jud. Lib. 3, cap. 7, sec. 3, p. 1143. Edit. Hudson.