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HADES (hā'dēz, Gr. Hadēs, haidēs, not to be seen). The place or state of the dead, as contrasted with the final punishment of the wicked. In the NT Greek the word occurs ten times and is uniformly translated “hell” in KJV. In the TR, from which KJV was translated, the word occurs also in 1Cor.15.55 and is rendered “grave”; but other manuscripts have the Greek thanatē, and both ASV and NIV render it “death.” The NT word is taken over from Greek mythology, in which Hades was the god of the lower regions. Although the word was taken from pagan myths, the concept is from the OT word Sheol. Sheol occurs sixty-five times in the Hebrew OT and is rendered in KJV as “hell” thirty-one times, “the grave” thirty-one times, and “the pit” three times; but in ASV it is uniformly transliterated Sheol, even as Hades in the ASV is a transliteration rather than an attempt to translate the Greek. The word “hell” in English always has an unpleasant connotation and is properly thought of as the final destiny of the wicked when it translates geenna, which occurs twelve times and is always rendered “hell.”

HADES hā’ dez (ἅδης, etymology uncertain. It is thought to come from the negative α, G1, +ἰδει̂ν, to see; that is, that which is not seen, abode of the dead).


Pagan background.

According to Homer, Hades was the name of both the underworld where the departed spirits dwell and the god of that underworld, also called Pluto, the son of Chronas and Rhea. Its original genitive form, Haidou, that is, “of Hades,” may reflect the idea that the underworld belongs to the god Hades. This place, according to Gr. mythology, was approached by crossing the River Styx and at its entrance three judges decided the fate of the soul.

OT equivalent.

Hades is the Gr. equivalent of the Heb. Sheol (see Sheol), it being the tr. for Sheol in the LXX sixty-one times (in every instance except in 2 Sam 22:6). In the OT, Sheol was the place where the dead existed. The Heb. concept was quite similar to that of the other peoples of the ancient Near E. Sheol was a gloomy underworld where the godly and the ungodly dwelt together, with little distinction between them, on a level of existence far below that of life on earth. Toward the end of the OT period, there emerged a few inklings of hope for the rescue of God’s people from Sheol, expressed by Job (19:25-27), by the psalmist (Pss 16:9-11; 17:15; 49:15) and by Daniel (12:2).

Intertestamental developments.

The lit. of the intertestamental period reflects the growth of the idea of the division of Hades into separate compartments for the godly and the ungodly. This aspect of eschatology was a popular subject in the apocalyptic lit. that flourished in this period. Notable is the pseudepigraphical Enoch (written c. 200 b.c.), which includes the description of a tour supposedly taken by Enoch into the center of the earth. There Enoch sees four hollow places, one is for the saintly martyrs, the next for ordinary righteous people, a third is for the wicked who were insufficiently punished in this life, and the final compartment is for sinners who suffered a violent death, which apparently was a sufficient punishment for leaving them in this intermediate state forever. In another passage in Enoch, he sees at the center of the earth two places—Paradise, the place of bliss, and the valley of Gehinnom, the place of punishment.

The above illustrates that there was a general notion of compartments in Hades that developed in the intertestamental period, but that there was diversity of details regarding these compartments. Some scholars interpret this division into compartments as the result of foreign influences, such as that of Pers. Zoroastrianism with its pronounced dualism; but a more likely explanation is that the OT faith (with its strong emphasis on the justice of God leading to the blessings of the godly and the punishment of the ungodly, and with its teaching that the true meaning of life is fellowship with God) could not conceive of a common fate for the wicked and the righteous as the final word on the subject.

Whatever the original sources of this development of distinct sections in Hades, it was confirmed by the teachings of Christ. The apocalyptic lit., however, included detailed and grotesque descriptions of the nature of the existence in the compartments of Hades inhabited by the damned which go far beyond a legitimate development of the faith of the OT. For example, the Fourth Book of the Sibylline Oracles (prob. the work of Alexandrian Essenes) says, “His angels will scourge them with fiery chains, and cast them before the fierce monsters of hell, and fiery wheels will turn them round about.”

NT usage.

The word Hades is used only ten times in the NT (eleven times if one includes 1 Cor 15:55, which had the word Hades in the tr. but which prob. should be Thánate, as in the more reliable MSS). Hades is tr. “hell” in the KJV, which leads to confusion by also using “hell” to tr. the Gr. word Gehenna, which refers to the place of eternal punishment. The RSV maintains the transliteration “Hades” in all but one instance, where it tr. “powers of death” for “gates of Hades” (Matt 16:18).

1. In Matthew 11:23 (and in the parallel passage, Luke 10:15) Hades is used to describe the tragic fate awaiting unrepentant Capernaum. That city will be “brought down to Hades,” in marked contrast to being “exalted to heaven.” Apparently Hades is here considered to be a place of punishment.

2. Christ promises that the “gates of Hades” will not prevail against His Church. Although this text has usually been interpreted otherwise, prob. because of the influence of the tr. “hell” for Hades, the promise prob. means that even death itself will not be able to prevent God’s people from sharing in the victory of Christ.

3. Hades is the place to which the rich man went when he was buried, in contrast to “Abraham’s bosom,” to which poor Lazarus was transported by angels when he died (Luke 16:23). This passage (a parable by Jesus) gives far more information about Hades than any other in the NT, but to what extent the language describing Hades in this passage is parabolic and to what extent it is to be taken literally is a question upon which commentators are not agreed. Hades is described here as “a place of torment” in which the wicked dwell in flames, a condition which produces “anguish” and specifically a desire to have one’s tongue cooled by water. Furthermore, although presumably in a disembodied state, the rich man could “lift up his eyes” and see Lazarus, and believed that Lazarus could “dip the end of his finger in water.” In the parable, conversation is possible between the inhabitants of Abraham’s bosom and of Hades, although “a great chasm” that cannot be crossed exists between the two realms described as “far off” from each other.

4. Hades is mentioned twice by Peter in his sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:27, 31). In the first instance, Peter quotes Psalm 16:10, where Hades is a tr. of Sheol, and in the second instance he applies this Psalm as a prophecy of the resurrection of Christ; because of His resurrection, Christ was not detained in Hades, as the prophecy had predicted.

5. The word Hades is used four times in the Book of Revelation. Jesus describes Himself as possessing “the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev 1:18). In 6:8 John sees a pale horse whose rider is named Death, “and Hades followed him.” The term “Hades” is twice used coupled with Death (20:13, 14). At the final judgment, Death and Hades “gave up the dead in them” and then Death and Hades “were thrown into the lake of fire” (v. 14). This last reference apparently teaches that Hades is a temporary place that will be destroyed at the end of the world.

As one considers these instances of NT usage, there appears to be some variation in the way the term Hades is used. Sometimes it seems almost to be equated with death itself, and therefore to be the condition into which both the godly and the ungodly enter. Elsewhere it appears to be the temporary abode of the ungodly prior to the final judgment, whereas the godly go immediately to be with the Lord in glory. G. Vos seeks to solve this problem by distinguishing between Hades as a place and as a state. According to him, only the ungodly go to the place called Hades, whereas the godly and Christ Himself went into the state of disembodied existence, which is also designated by the word Hades.

Other passages of the NT are sometimes interpreted as referring to Hades, although they do not mention the word itself. Ephesians 4:9, which says of Christ “he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth,” was interpreted by the Church Fathers and some later commentators as describing a descent into Hades by Christ after His death. However, other commentators claim that this passage simply speaks of Christ’s coming down from heaven to earth. 1 Peter 3:19, speaking of Christ, says “he went and preached to the spirits in prison.” This v. was also interpreted by some to refer to a descent of Christ into Hades at His death.

The Early Church.

Whereas the ante-Nicene fathers were somewhat vague in their statements on the subject, the post-Nicene fathers were in rather general agreement that believers who died before Christ were kept in Hades until Christ, after His crucifixion, descended to their abodes and brought them up to Paradise, which was considered to be either a higher part of Hades or the lower regions of heaven. That part of Hades where the OT believers dwelt before Christ rescued them was later named the Limbus Patrum. According to the fathers, after Christ’s descent into Hades, believers at death went directly to Paradise, which was, however, not the highest heaven where the vision of God could be enjoyed, but was rather a place of preparation and further development which in later Roman Catholic theology became “purgatory.”

In the phrase of the Apostles’ Creed, “he descended into hell,” hell is a tr. of the Gr. Hades, the Lat. creeds using the term “infernos.” The article about the descent into hell was the last to be added to the Creed, being found in Arian creeds about a.d. 360, in the Creed of Aquileja about a.d. 390, and not being added to the final form of the Apostles’ Creed until about a.d. 750. See Hell.


W. Whiston, The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus (n.d.), 743-745; G. Bartle, The Scriptural Doctrine of Hades (1869); J. P. Lange, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, The Revelation of John (1874), 364-377; W. O. E. Oesterley, Immortality and the Unseen World (1921); J. Jeremias, “ἅδης,” TDNT, I (1964), 146-149.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

1. In Old Testament: Sheol:

In the Septuagint Hades is the standing equivalent for Sheol, but also translates other terms associated with death and the state after it. The Greek conception of Hades was that of a locality receiving into itself all the dead, but divided into two regions, one a place of torment, the other of blessedness. This conception should not be rashly transferred to the New Testament, for the latter stands not under the influence of Greek pagan belief, but gives a teaching and reflects a belief which model their idea of Hades upon the Old Testament through the Septuagint. The Old Testament Sheol, while formally resembling the Greek Hades in that it is the common receptacle of all the dead, differs from it, on the one hand, by the absence of a clearly defined division into two parts, and, on the other hand, by the emphasis placed on its association with death and the grave as abnormal facts following in the wake of sin. The Old Testament thus concentrates the partial light it throws on the state after death on the negative, undesirable side of the prospect apart from redemption. When in the progress of Old Testament revelation the state after death begins to assume more definite features, and becomes more sharply differentiated in dependence on the religious and moral issue of the present life this is not accomplished in the canonical writings (otherwise in the apocalyptic literature) by dividing Sheol into two compartments, but by holding forth to the righteous the promise of deliverance from Sheol, so that the latter becomes more definitely outlined as a place of evil and punishment.

2. In the New Testament: Hades:

The New Testament passages mark a distinct stage in this process, and there is, accordingly, a true basis in Scripture for the identification in a certain aspect of Sheol--Hades--with hell as reflected in the King James Version. The theory according to which Hades is still in the New Testament the undifferentiated provisional abode of all the dead until the day of judgment, with the possibility of ultimate salvation even for those of its inmates who have not been saved in this life, is neither in harmony with the above development nor borne out by the facts of New Testament usage. That dead believers abide in a local Hades cannot be proven from 1Th 4:16; 1Co 15:23, for these passages refer to the grave and the body, not to a gathering-place of the dead. On the other hand Lu 23:43; 2Co 5:6-8; Php 1:23; Re 6:9; 7:9 ff; 15:2 ff teach that the abode of believers immediately after death is with Christ and God.

3. Ac 2:27,31:

It is, of course, a different matter, when Hades, as not infrequently already the Old Testament Sheol, designates not the place of the dead but the state of death or disembodied existence. In this sense even the soul of Jesus was in Hades according’ to Peter’s statement (Ac 2:27,31--on the basis of Ps 16:10). Here the abstract sense is determined by the parallel expression, "to see corruption" None the less from a comparatively early date this passage has been quoted in support of the doctrine of a local descent of Christ into Hades.

4. Re 20:13; 6:8; 1:18:

The same abstract meaning is indicated for Re 20:13. Death and Hades are here represented as delivering up the dead on the eve of the final judgment. If this is more than a poetic duplication of terms, Hades will stand for the personified state of death, Death for the personified cause of this state. The personification appears plainly from 20:14: "Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire." In the number of these "dead" delivered up by Hades, believers are included, because, even on the chiliastic interpretation of 20:4-6, not all the saints share in the first resurrection, but only those "beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God," i.e. the martyrs. A similar personifying combination of Death and Hades occurs in Re 6:8 ("a pale horse: and he that sat upon him his name was Death; and Hades followed with him"). In Re 1:18, on the other hand, Death and Hades are represented as prisons from which Christ, in virtue of His own resurrection, has the power to deliver, a representation which again implies that in some, not necessarily local, sense believers also are kept in Hades.

5. Lu 16:23:

In distinction from these passages when the abstract meaning prevails and the local conception is in abeyance, the remaining references are more or less locally conceived. Of these Lu 16:23 is the only one which might seem to teach that recipients of salvation enter after death into Hades as a place of abode. It has been held that Hades is here the comprehensive designation of the locality where the dead reside, and is divided into two regions, "the bosom of Abraham" and the place of torment, a representation for which Jewish parallels can be quoted, aside from its resemblance to the Greek bisection of Hades. Against this view, however, it may be urged, that if "the bosom of Abraham" were conceived as one of the two divisions of Hades, the other division would have been named with equal concreteness in connection with Dives. In point of fact, the distinction is not between "the bosom of Abraham" and another place, as both included in Hades, but between "the bosom of Abraham" and Hades as antithetical and exclusive. The very form of the description of the experience of Dives: "In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments," leads us to associate Hades as such with pain and punishment. The passage, therefore, does not prove that the saved are after death in Hades. In further estimating its bearing upon the problem of the local conditions of the disembodied life after death, the parabolic character of the representation must be taken into account. The parable is certainly not intended to give us topographical information about the realm of the dead, although it presupposes that there is a distinct place of abode for the righteous and wicked respectively.

6. Mt 11:23:

The two other passages where Hades occurs in the teaching of our Lord (Mt 11:23 parallel Lu 10:15; and Mt 16:18) make a metaphorical use of the conception, which, however, is based on the local sense. In the former utterance it is predicted of Capernaum that it shall in punishment for its unbelief "go down unto Hades." As in the Old Testament Sheol is a figure for the greatest depths known (De 32:22; Isa 7:11; 57:9; Job 11:8; 26:6), this seems to be a figure for the extreme of humiliation to which that city was to be reduced in the course of history. It is true, 11:24, with its mention of the day of judgment, might seem to favor an eschatological reference to the ultimate doom of the unbelieving inhabitants, but the usual restriction of Hades to the punishment of the intermediate state (see below) is against this.

7. Mt 16:18:

In the other passage, Mt 16:18, Jesus declares that the gates of Hades shall not katischuein the church He intends to build. The verb katischuein may be rendered, "to overpower" or "to surpass." If the former be adopted, the figure implied is that of Hades as a stronghold of the power of evil or death from which warriors stream forth to assail the church as the realm of life. On the other rendering there is no reference to any conflict between Hades and the church, the point of comparison being merely the strength of the church, the gates of Hades, i.e. the realm of death, serving in common parlance as a figure of the greatest conceivable strength, because they never allow to escape what has once entered through them.

The above survey of the passages tends to show that Hades, where it is locally conceived, is not a provisional receptacle for all the dead, but plainly associated with the punishment of the wicked. Where it comes under consideration for the righteous there is nothing to indicate a local sense. On 1Pe 3:19; 4:6 (where, however, the word "Hades" does not occur), see articles ESCHATOLOGY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT; SPIRITS IN PRISON.

8. Not a Final State:

The element of truth in theory of the provisional character of Hades lies in this, that the New Testament never employs it in connection with the final state of punishment, as subsequent to the last judgment. For this GEHENNA (which see) and other terms are used. Dives is represented as being in Hades immediately after his death and while his brethren are still in this present life. Whether the implied differentiation between stages of punishment, depending obviously on the difference between the disembodied and reembodied state of the lost, also carries with itself a distinction between two places of punishment, in other words whether Hades and Gehenna are locally distinct, the evidence is scarcely sufficient to determine. The New Testament places the emphasis on the eschatological developments at the end, and leaves many things connected with the intermediate state in darkness.