Tyndale on Hades

Heaven and Hell Theology / Biblical Studies

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Anybody familiar with the dialogue between biblical translator William Tyndale and Thomas Moore will know that one of the issues they debated was the immortality of the soul and the intermediate state (OK, that’s two issues, but they are closely related).

As a translator of Scripture, Tyndale was at times keenly aware of the mistaken beliefs that were common in the Church simply because believers only knew what they heard on Sunday, not having the means to study the Scripture in depth, and certainly not to delve into the texts in the original language as he had done. We take that ability for granted today.

At the end of his translation of the New Testament he included a final page of text, as there was some spare space. The heading for this page was: “These things I have added to fill up the leaf withal.” Writing materials were expensive, and wasting a whole page seemed like such a shame, you see.

On this final page, Tyndale offered a few helpful notes on various passages, drawing on his insights as a translator. Interestingly enough, the very first thing he wanted the layperson to know here was that they ought to be more discerning about how they understand the word “hell” in their Bibles. He comments on the differences between gehenna and infernus (infernus is the Latin translation of the Greek term hades). Gehenna in the Greek New Testament refers to the place/state of punishment at the last judgement.

In Tyndale’s age, as in ours, a number of Christians thought that hades, or “hell” as it appeared in their Bibles, was a place of consciousness in the intermediate state. As a translator of both Greek and Hebrew (hades is the word used to translate the Hebrew term sheol in the Old Testament, something Tyndale was well aware of), Tyndale knew better. Here’s the first comment he added in this the last page of his Bible:

Infernus and Gehenna differ much in signification, though we have none other interpretation for either of them, than this English word, hell. For Gehenna signifieth a place of punishment: but Infernus is taken for any manner of place beneath in the earth, as a grave, sepulchre or cave.

Tyndale then explained the origin of the term gehenna, a Greek word derived from the Hebrew Geh-Hinnom (meaning “valley of Hinnom,” inexplicably spelt “Hennon” here).

Hell: it is called in Hebrew the valley of Hennon. A place by Jerusalem, where they burnt their children in fire unto the idol Moloch, and is usurped and taken now for a place where the wicked and ungodly shall be tormented both soul and body, after the general judgement.

Of all the issues to clarify for the reader, the first that Tyndale raised was to point out the hades is not a conscious place in the intermediate state, but merely the grave or any sepulchre or cave, and that people don’t go to “Hell” (i.e. gehenna) until after the judgement.

Anyone interested in what the other issues Tyndale raised were can read that final page here.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Andy September 23, 2009, 1:33 am

    interesting. But if hell is (as Heaven), a place outside of time then does discussion around the “intermediate state” matter at all?

  • Jarvis September 16, 2011, 11:25 am

    That’s a really interesting, and great, find Glenn!

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