Departed Spirits

J Frank Norris
J Frank Norris

The Abodes of the Departed Spirits

by Dr. J. Frank Norris (1877-1952), Long Pastor

1st Baptist, Fort Worth (TX), Temple Baptist, Detroit (MI)

(He was the pastor of both churches at the same time)

We have previously shown, according to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, the following two facts: first, that man has a soul (spiritual nature) and, second, that at death the spiritual nature separates or departs from the body.

Inasmuch as we have learned that death is but the separation or departure of the spirit or spiritual nature from the body, the next logical question to be asked by every thinking person would be, “WHAT BECOMES OF THE DEPARTED SPIRITS? Are they roaming about in space or do they depart to some definite place? If so, what place?”

First, it can be clearly and emphatically stated that the spirits of the departed DO NOT roam about in space. The Bible makes it clear that there is a definite abode for them.

In order to get a correct understanding of the subject, it will be necessary to consider and distinguish between the PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE ABODES OF THE DEAD. We must also get a proper knowledge of the words as they are used in the ORIGINAL HEBREW AND GREEK TEXTS, and not as the translators have rendered them in the King James Version. It would be impossible to arrive at an accurate understanding of Death, Heaven, and Hell, from the English Translation, without first going direct to the original Hebrew and Greek.

WHY? The following Scriptures as rendered in the King James Version, will illustrate the predicament.

Christ said in Luke 16:22, 23, “the rich man also died, and was buried; and in HELL (Hades) …” The original word (Hades) is here translated Hell.

In Matthew 23:33 Christ said, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of Hell? (Gehenna).”

The original word (Gehenna) is also translated Hell.

In II Peter 2:4, “For if God spared not the angels that sinned but cast them down to HELL (Tartarus) …”

Here the original word (Tartarus) is also rendered Hell.

So you see, HADES, GEHENNA, TARTARUS, are three different words, and are the names of three different places, and are all translated in the King James Version by the one word, Hell.

Now then, when reading the English word Hell in the New Testament, how can we possibly know to which of the three places the writer was referring? One can readily see why it is necessary to go directly to the original text to arrive at a correct understanding of the subject.

Now let us turn our attention to a similar situation in the Old Testament.

You remember Jacob thought his son Joseph was devoured by a “wild beast” and said, in Genesis 37:35, “I will go down into the GRAVE (SHEOL) unto my son mourning.”

Here the original word is SHEOL and is rendered GRAVE by the translators.

Psalm 16:10: “Thou wilt not leave my soul in HELL (SHEOL).” Here again is the same original word SHEOL, but this time it is not translated grave as in Genesis 37:35, but it is rendered HELL.

In Numbers 16:30, concerning the wicked that die, it says, “They go down quick into the PIT (SHEOL).” Here again, in the original, is the same word SHEOL but this time it is translated neither GRAVE nor HELL, but PIT.

Thus it is easily comprehended why it is absolutely necessary to use for our foundation, words from the original Hebrew and Greek texts.

Where Are the Departed Dead?

Continuing with the thought, TO WHAT PLACE DO THE SPIRITS OF THE DEPARTED DEAD GO? The Bible makes it clear that the place of the spirits of the departed dead is called SHEOL in the Old Testament Hebrew, and HADES in the New Testament Greek.

The Hebrew word SHEOL means PLACE OF THE DEPARTED DEAD. The word is found 65 times in the Old Testament. Thirty-one times it is translated “HELL”, thirty-one times, “GRAVE”, and three times it is translated “THE PIT.”

The Hebrew Old Testament word for the place of the departed dead is SHEOL, and the Greek New Testament word for the same place is HADES, the abode of the dead – the unseen state.

Perhaps some sincere seeker for the truth is saying “How do you know that the word SHEOL in the Old Testament Hebrew means the same as Hades in the New Testament Greek?”

The following reference will prove the point.

It was prophesied of Jesus the His soul should not remain in SHEOL and His body should not see corruption. Psalm 16:10: “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (SHEOL), NEITHER WILT THOU SUFFER THY Holy One to see corruption.”

The Hebrew word that appears here is “SHEOL.” THIS SAME VERSE IS QUOTED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT GREEK. Acts 2:27: “Because thou will not leave my soul in hell (HADES) neither will thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption.

This is positive proof that the Hebrew word SHEOL has identically the same meaning as the Greek word Hades, because this very same verse of Scripture is written both in the Hebrew and Greek, and the word rendered for SHEOL is Hades.

As additional proof on this point, it is well to note that the “Septuagint” version of the Old Testament, translated from Hebrew to Greek by seventy scholars in the year 275 B.C., invariably renders SHEOL by Hades.

Then SHEOL in the Hebrew, or HADES in the Greek, is the same place, and means THE ABODE OF THE SPIRITS OF THE DEPARTED DEAD.

Now then, Judge Rutherford, and all those who adhere (The Jehovah’s Witnesses) to his theory, in attempting to establish the fact that there is no abode for departed spirits, would like to have us believe that Sheol or Hades IS NOT the place of departed spirits, but that it means the GRAVE where the bodies are laid. He tells us that SHEOL means the grave – the condition of death, not the abode of spirits.

BUT AGAIN WE FIND THAT THIS IS NOT SO. SHEOL IS ONE PLACE, AND THE GRAVE IS ANOTHER. They are not the same. The following considerations furnish definite proof of the distinction between SHEOL, the abode of the departed spirits, and the grave, the resting place of the body.

The Grave for the Body Is Clearly

Distinguished from the

Abode for the Spirits

FIRST: the words for grave in both the Hebrew and Greek languages, are altogether different than the words Sheol or Hades. The Hebrew word for “grave,” into which only the “bodies” of the dead go, is qeburah, and the Greek mnēmeion. These are used many times in the Scriptures. Jacob could not join his son in the grave, but he could join him in the “place” for departed spirits.

This is definite proof that SHEOL does not mean “grave,” as the grave for the body, but is the abode of the departed spirits.

SECOND: the word SHEOL is NEVER USED IN THE PLURAL, for it is ONE PLACE (abode of spirits) but the word for “grave” is used many times in the plural, proving that there can be many “graves” but only one SHEOL.

THIRD: we never read of a person having a SHEOL, but we often read of a person having a “grave.” This proves that SHEOL is the abode of spirits and not the grave for the body, inasmuch as a person cannot have a SHEOL but he can have a “grave.”

FOURTH: the body is never said to be in SHEOL and the “spirit” is never said to be in the “grave,” which again proves that SHEOL is not the grave.

FIFTH: no SHEOL was ever dug by man or was ever located on the earth, but this CAN be said of graves. Therefore we know that SHEOL is the abode of the departed spirits and not the grave – the place of bodies.

Other Scriptures clearly distinguish between the abode of the spirits and the resting place for the body which further proves that SHEOL or Hades is not the grave, as Rutherford claims it is.

SIXTH: in the final judgment, both the GRAVE and HADES will deliver up the dead. Revelation 20:13, “Death (the grave, the abode of the body) and hell (Hades, the abode of the spirit) delivered up the dead which were in them.” This distinguishes between the two, and shows that Hades is not the grave.

SEVENTH: Christ has the keys of both. Revelation 1:18: “Behold I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell (Hades, the abode of the spirits) and of death (grave, the abode of bodies.)” This again shows that Hades is not the grave.

EIGHTH: Christ’s soul was not left in Hades neither was His body left in the TOMB (Acts 2:27). Here again the grave is clearly distinguished from Hades the abode of departed spirits, which shows that Hades is not the grave.

NINTH: when Jacob’s twelve sons sold Joseph into Egyptian slavery, they deceived their father Jacob by bringing to him Joseph’s blood-stained coat, making him think that a “wild beast” had devoured Joseph (Genesis 37:35). Jacob’s sons and daughters tried to comfort him but he would not be comforted, and said, “I will go down into the ‘GRAVE’ unto my son mourning.”

The original word in the Hebrew where this word is rendered “grave” is SHEOL.

Judge Rutherford, in trying to show that SHEOL is the grave or the place where bodies are laid, says, “It is easy to be seen that Jacob expected to go to the TOMB.” But we shall prove that this word SHEOL does not mean grave – the place of bodies, but that it means the place of departed spirits.

From what Jacob thought and said we can see that he did not intend to go into the “grave” or tomb to meet his son Joseph, but into the abode of the departed spirits. As proof of this we know that Jacob did not believe that Joseph was in the grave, for he believed that a “wild beast” had devoured him (Verse 33). Therefore it would have been impossible for Jacob to go to the grave to meet Joseph if a wild beast had devoured him, but where he really intended to meet him was in the abode of the spirits of the departed dead.

This clearly shows the distinction between the grave and the abode of the departed spirits, and proves that SHEOL – Hades is not the grave for the bodies, as Rutherford says it is.

The following account of Jacob’s death sets forth the same truth:

TENTH: Jacob is said to have been gathered unto his people at the moment of death (Genesis 49:33), though his body was not buried with the bodies of his ancestors till months afterward. “And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.”

Jacob died in Goshen in Egypt, but was buried in the land of Canaan. They were forty days embalming the body, and the mourning in Egypt continued thirty days longer. Joseph then obtained permission of Pharaoh to go and bury his father (Genesis 50:10), so that at least eighty days elapsed between the gathering unto his people, and the burial of the body in the cave of Machpelah in Canaan.

Jacob was “gathered unto his people” at the time of his death, by the departure of his SOUL to the souls of Isaac, his father, and his grandfather Abraham. It is certain that his BODY was not then gathered to his people, at the time he expired, nor till seven weeks later, therefore his gathering to his people was not to their bodies in the graves, but to the place where they were in their disembodied state.

Consequently, the place of departed spirits, which is Hades in the Greek, Sheol in the Hebrew, is not the same as the grave for the body.

These ten considerations conclusively prove that Judge Rutherford and all those who believe in his theory are definitely wrong when they say that Hades means the grave, for Hades, the abode for the departed spirits has been clearly distinguished from the grave for the body.

HADES or SHEOL THEN, IS NOT THE GRAVE, the abode for the body, but the place of departed spirits.

In studying its location, we find that in 20 of the 65 Old Testament passages that refer to SHEOL, it is located downward. In Genesis 37:35 Jacob said, “I will go down to SHEOL.” In New Testament references to Hades, we also find that it is located downward. Matthew 11:23, “Thou shalt be brought down to Hades.” Luke 10:15, “Thou shalt be thrust down to Hades.” Never do we find the Scriptures locating SHEOL-HADES on the earth or above the earth, but always downward.

Thus far it has been established, from the Scriptures, that man does have a soul, and that at death the soul separates from the body, and that it departs to the place called Sheol or Hades, which is not the grave, but the abode of the departed spirits of the dead. We are now ready for the next logical question that follows.

What is Revealed About the

Place Called SHEOL?

What kind of a place is it?

The reader will notice that thus far in the discourse on SHEOL nothing has been said relative to the righteous and the unrighteous. It has been merely stated that the spirits of all the dead, regardless of moral distinction, righteous or unrighteous, departed to SHEOL.

When we turn to our Bibles to learn what kind of a place it is, we find that the Old Testament sheds very little light on the subject. Nothing is said in regard to the spirits of the righteous and unrighteous. The Old Testament merely tells us that all the dead departed to SHEOL. It makes no distinction between abodes for the saved and he lost. Thus, it can be said that in the Old Testament, the light, as to the state of the departed dead, is in the twilight stage.

Perhaps this question comes to the mind of some sincere seeker for the truth. Why is it that the Old Testament is almost silent on the future state? Why does it leave us with so little information? The Bible clearly answers that question. The time for the revealing of the conditions beyond the grave had not yet come in the Old Testament days. It was reserved for Christ to “BRING LIFE AND IMMORTALITY TO LIGHT THROUGH THE GOSPEL.”

And that is just what Christ did. We know Christ came to save sinners, but II Timothy 1:10 also tells us that His coming “hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.” The Old Testament teaching which is in the twilight stage on immortality and conditions in Sheol, is now made manifest, or revealed, by Christ through the Gospel.

Notice the Scripture verse does not say that when Christ came He brought life and immortality into EXISTENCE, but he brought it to light – He brought it into revelation – He revealed it. LIFE AND IMMORTALITY EXISTED IN OLD TESTAMENT DAYS, but now it is made manifest, or revealed, by Christ through the Gospel.

Now then, since Christ was the one who has brought immortality to light, we must accept His statements. We should learn what His teaching was regarding the conditions in the abode of the departed.


His teaching is found in Luke 16:19-31, in the account of the rich man and Lazarus. This gives us a description of the abode of the departed dead as it was in the Old Testament days and in the days of Christ’s earthly ministry.

[Editor’s note: Luke 16:19-31 is discussed more fully in Dr. Norris’ message on Hell, which we hope to print later.]

This message from the pages of The Biblical Evangelist, Editor, Dr. Robert L. Sumner – Used by Permission.  Website:

Author: Editor

An ordained Baptist minister. Worked for 10 years with a Christian publishing ministry where I was the circulation manager for a growing publication, The Sword of the Lord. I also did most of direct mail fundraising and promotion. I have pastored churches in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama & Arkansas. I served for some four years as Vice President of The Spoken Word of God ministry, Orlando, FL. This ministry was active in church planting in India and broadcasting the Scriptures via Trans World Radio and other radio outlets. My associate in this ministry later invited me to join him and his dad in starting a business working with churches providing multimedia equipment. I have done this work for the last 16 years. This blog, hopefully, will scratch an itch I have for communicating the Word of God to a broader audience via the Internet. I would be honored to hear from you via email.

1 thought on “Departed Spirits”

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