"Hades" = the grave, death
This past Sunday, September 4, we looked at Luke 10:1-24. There was a word in these verses that may have been new to some people or might have caused people to ask questions. That word is found in verse 15 and the word is “Hades.” For some people, especially if you use the King James Version of the Bible, you may have never heard of the word “Hades” before. For others you might have heard this word, may have even read it in the New Testament, and you scratched your head thinking what in the world does “Hades” mean? I was doing a series through the Book of Revelation a few years back, when I became aware of the confusion that the word “Hades” creates.
The English word “Hades” is the transliteration of the Greek word. Historically, when Bible translators came across this Greek word, they translated it as “hell” which is why when you read the King James Version of Luke 10:15 it says, “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shall be thrust down to hell.” But translating “hades” as “hell” leads to some problems, some confusion, and some Biblical misunderstands.
If the Greek word “hades” is translated as “hell” it will lead to some problems especially when you compare the usage of this Greek word in the Old Testament. But wait Isaac, I thought the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. How can we compare a Greek word in the New Testament to the Old Testament? By looking at the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which is called the Septuagint. This Greek translation was completed during the second and third centuries before Christ. The New Testament writers often quoted from the Greek Old Testament, rather than the Hebrew Old Testament because the Greek language was the main language that people spoke in the first century. Greek was the international business language just like English is nowadays. This being said, we can compare the Greek Old Testament with the Greek New Testament because the Biblical writers used many of the same terminology. What we find with the word “hades” is that the translators of the Hebrew Old Testament used this Greek word to translate the Hebrew word “Sheol.” The Hebrew word “sheol” usually is translated as “the grave.”
An example of this is in Genesis 37. At the end of Genesis 37, we find the scene of Joseph being sold into slavery. When Jacob is told by Joseph’s brothers that Joseph is dead, Jacob says in verse 35, “…I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” The word “grave” is the Hebrew word “sheol” and the Greek translators used the word “hades.” If we take the word “hades” to mean “hell” then we have Jacob saying that he will mourn the death of Joseph until he is reunited with him in hell. This cannot be. If the translators of the Old Testament used the word “hades” to mean the Hebrew word “sheol” then “hades” must mean “the grave, or death.”
If this is the meaning of the word “hades,” then what is Jesus saying in Luke 10:15? Capernaum was the city that Jesus used as His base in Galilee. Many of His miracles and teaching took place around the area of Capernaum. Jesus asks, what about the inhabitants of Capernaum, how will they respond? Jesus gives the answer, they will go to their graves not believing in Jesus. The people living in Capernaum should have known who Jesus is, but they rejected Him, just like Chorazin and Bethsaida.
Let’s look at another verse where we find “hades.” Matthew 16:18. Jesus asks His disciples, “who do people say that I am.” They tell Him, John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. Jesus then asks, “who do you say that I am?” Simon gives his great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Then Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter and says, “…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of [Hades] will not overcome it.” Typically, our English translations will say “hell” where the brackets are, but in the Greek, it is “hades.” Typically, you will hear sermons talk about how Satan cannot destroy the church. But is this what Jesus is talking about? I would argue no. Jesus is not talking about the church being able to stand against Satan and his demons, but instead Jesus is talking about how death, the grave will not be able to overcome the church. There will always be people on this planet that will believe that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of the living God. The church, referring to the universal church, will never die out. Totally different meaning when we apply the correct meaning of the word "hades."
I hope this will help in some of the confusion that comes up with the word “hades.” This maybe a new word for you, or you may have read it and scratched your head asking the question, “What does it mean?” The purpose of reading the Bible is to understand it’s message so that we may walk in obedience to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Making sure we know the meaning of the words help us better understand God’s Word so that we can follow Jesus more.