The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 1


I. She’ol’s Most Suitable Rendering Is “Gravedom”

In seeking to grasp the meaning and to understand the usage of the basic Hebrew terms that concern the destiny of man, we come to the familiar word she’ol, which we should remember is always connected with death. Now, there are two principal reasons for the prevalent difficulty in grasping the true intent of she’ol—(1) conflicting translations, and (2) popular misconceptions prevalent concerning Hell. These must be clarified and the true intent ascertained. CFF1 160.2


First of all, variant translations of the Hebrew word she’ol have made it difficult for the English reader to grasp the basic meaning of the word. For example, in its sixty-five occurrences in the Old Testament she’ol has been given three different and actually contradictory renderings. In the Authorized Version, she’ol is twenty-seven times rendered as “hell,” thirty-five times as “the grave,” and three times as “the pit.” (It should be noted at the outset that “grave,” as here used, means “the grave” in contrast to “a grave” [qeber] or mere burial place.) CFF1 160.3

Picture 1: The Garden of Eden:
Placed on Probation in Sinless Eden, Adam and Eve Were Candidates for Radiant Immortality if Obedient.
Page 161

Added to this primary difficulty is the fact that nine other words besides she’ol are also translated “pit.” Furthermore, six other words, in addition to she’ol, are translated “grave.” 1 This obviously complicates the situation. CFF1 161.1

In the Revised Version she’ol is translated as “hell” fourteen times, as “grave” fifteen times, and as “pit” six times. In thirty instances she’ol is left untranslated—just the plain transliteration “sheol.” In the Revised Standard Version she’ol is transliterated in all but two occurrences—1 Kings 2:9 and Song of Solomon 8:6, in both cases being rendered “grave.” The Jewish Publication Society Torah transliterates she’ol in all cases. As a convenience for those who wish to check the various translations, the sixty-five instances are listed in the note below. 2 CFF1 161.2


The second major handicap to correct understanding is the popular misconception that Hell (one of the principal words by which she’ol is translated in the English versions) is commonly considered to be a place or state of fiery, endless, present torment for the wicked. CFF1 161.3

As mentioned, in a total of thirty-eight instances out of the sixty-five, in the Authorized Version she’ol is rendered either “the grave” or “the pit.” Now, if she’ol were to signify the lake burning with fire and brimstone in which the wicked are generally believed writhing in endless conscious misery, then why should she’ol ever be rendered “grave,” or “pit,” which it is in more than half the passages? The question is pertinent, and the answer is simple and basic: In Old Testament times she’ol meant the unseen secret resting place of all the dead—not the place of torment for the wicked. CFF1 161.4

In the first occurrence of she’ol (in Genesis 37:35, “For I will go down into the grave [she’ol] unto my son mourning”), the revisers in the Revised Version added a marginal note, “Heb. she’ol, the name of the abode of the dead, answering to the Greek hades, Acts 2:27.” Certain texts seem to suggest this definition (“If I wait, the grave is mine house,” Job 17:13), and it presents no difficulties if we do not take it to imply that the dead are living in she’ol, which is contrary to other plain texts describing the state of man in death. CFF1 162.1


A careful examination of the sixty-five she’ol passages will show that the word “gravedom” 3—not primarily the place of interment or the locality of departed spirits, but the condition of death or the death-state-offers the nearest suitable preponderant rendering. The insertion of “gravedom” for she’ol into the sixty-five texts where she’ol appears, would clarify the whole problem, and afford the nearest possible uniform meaning. CFF1 162.2

Thus harmony and consistency would result, and a semblance of order come out of much confusion. Added to this is the fact that the New Testament Greek Hades, equivalent of the Hebrew she’ol, may likewise be consistently translated gravedom. This is further reason for approving this term. 4 CFF1 162.3


In the Pentateuch and throughout the subsequent books of the Old Testament, she’ol is set forth as the place or state of death, or the dead, where deepest darkness and silence obtains, and in which there is total absence of life in any form. In she’ol all human activities cease. It is the awesome terminus toward which all human life moves. The dead who are therein give no sign of life. In she’ol nothing is seen or heard. There is no thought or perception, no activity of any kind. Good and bad alike are there—confined in darkness, with suspension of all life. CFF1 162.4

In she’ol “there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Each is wrapped in heavy, unconscious sleep, 5 there to await the call of the Life-giver on the resurrection morn. Beyond any question she’ol is the place of death, darkness, and silence—gravedom. CFF1 163.1

The fact is particularly impressive that she’ol, or gravedom, stands in complete contrast with the state of the living (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19; 1 Samuel 2:6-9), and is never connected with the living except by contrast. As to its duration, the dominion of she’ol, or the grave, lasts until, and will end only with, the resurrection which is its only exit. “I will ransom them from the power of the grave [she’ol]; I will redeem them from death ...; O grave [she’ol], I will be thy destruction” (Hosea 13:14. Cf. Psalm 16:10 with Acts 2:27). CFF1 163.2

Man himself, as a person or individual, goes down into she’ol, the state of death, and remains in she’ol during the entire period of death. Here are confirmatory texts: CFF1 163.3

“As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away; so he that goeth down to the grave [she’ol] shall come up no more” (Job 7:9)—that is, not until the resurrection. CFF1 163.4

“They [the wicked] spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave [she’ol]” (Job 21:13). CFF1 163.5

“Like sheep they [the foolish] are laid in the grave [she’ol]; death shall feed on them” (Psalm 49:14). CFF1 163.6


The concept of death and she’ol as equivalents runs all through the Old Testament (Proverbs 5:5; Proverbs 7:27; Song of Solomon 8:6; Isaiah 28:15; Habakkuk 2:5). Resurrection was understood and anticipated. But the sadness of the Old Testament Hebrew contemplation of entrance into the dark, silent, lifeless state of she’ol, gives way to the New Testament Christian emphasis on the exit from the grave under the gospel, where she’ol’s dominion is broken and its rule abrogated by the triumphant resurrection of Christ from its power and domain. Job’s words thus somberly tie she’ol, darkness, corruption, and the dust, together in “gravedom.” CFF1 163.7

“If I wait, the grave [she’ol] is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness. I have said to corruption, Thou art my father: to the worm, Thou art my mother, and my sister. And where is now my hope? ... They shall go down to the bars of the pit [she’ol], when our rest together is in the dust” (Job 17:13-16). CFF1 164.1

However, under the gospel, the exit from gravedom through the assurance of resurrection, becomes luminous and central. Thus sadness gives way to gladness. CFF1 164.2


She’ol is therefore the place or state of death. Not once does the Old Testament speak of she’ol in connection with life. Only in the poetical imagery of Isaiah 14 are those in she’ol said to perform the acts of living beings, as will be noted in Part IV. She’ol is therefore invariably connected with death. Hannah the prophetess speaks of God as the One who “bringeth down to the grave [she’ol], and bringeth up” (1 Samuel 2:6). In other words, she’ol is clearly, and always, the place of death. CFF1 164.3

“What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave [she’ol]?” (Psalm 89:48). CFF1 164.4

“The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell [she’ol] gat hold upon me” (Psalm 116:3). CFF1 164.5


She’ol and “death” are often equivalents. Proverbs speaks of the strange woman whose “feet go down to death [maweth]; her steps take hold on hell [she’ol]” (Proverbs 5:5). “Her house is the way to hell [she’ol], going down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:27). So, we repeat, she’ol and “death” are used in Holy Writ as synonyms. Thus: “We have made a covenant with death, and with hell [she’ol] are we at agreement” (Isaiah 28:15). And Habakkuk describes the proud as one who “enlargeth his desire as hell [she’ol], and is as death” (Habakkuk 2:5). This is invariable from the earliest book of the Old Testament through to its close. CFF1 164.6

We therefore rightly conclude that she’ol is the grave, or gravedom—the silent, invisible place to which God told sinful Adam he must go—“dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19)—not to a land of living ghosts. That was the understanding that Job had of she’ol, or the grave, as noted: CFF1 165.1

“If I wait, the grave [she’ol] is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness. I have said to corruption, Thou art my father: to the worm, Thou art my mother, and my sister .... They shall go down to the bars of the pit [she’ol], when our rest together is in the dust” (Job 17:13-16). CFF1 165.2