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THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES - Chapter 2 - Verse 27
Verse 27. Thou wilt not leave my soul. The word soul, with us, means the thinking, the immortal part of man, and is applied to it whether existing in connexion with the body, or whether separate from it. The Hebrew word translated soul here—
naphsli however, may mean, My spirit, my mind, my life; and may denote here nothing more than me, or myself. It means, properly, breath; then life, or the vital principle, a living being; then the soul, the spirit, the thinking part. Instances where it is put for the individual himself, meaning "me," or "myself," may be seen in Ps 11:1; 35:3,7; Job 9:21.
There is no clear instance in which it is applied to the soul in its separate state, or disjoined from the body. In this place it must be explained in part by the meaning of the word hell. If that means grave, then this word probably means "me;" thou wilt not leave me in the grave. The meaning probably is, "Thou wilt not leave me in sheol, neither," etc. The word leave here means, "Thou wilt not resign me to, or wilt not give me over to it, to be held under its power.
In hell. eiv adou. The word hell, in English, now commonly denotes the place of the future eternal punishment of the wicked. This sense it has acquired by long usage. It is a Saxon word, derived from helan, to cover; and denotes, literally, a covered or deep place, (Webster;) then the dark and dismal abode of departed spirits; and then the place of torment. As the word is used now by us, it by no means expresses the force of the original; and if with this idea we read a passage like the one before us, it would convey an erroneous meaning altogether; although formally the English word perhaps expressed no more than the original. The Greek word hades means, literally, a place devoid of light; a dark, obscure abode; and in Greek writers was applied to the dark and obscure regions where disembodied spirits were supposed to dwell. It occurs but eleven times in the New Testament. In this place it is the translation of the Hebrew, sheol. In Re 20:13,14, it is connected with death. "And death and hell (hades) delivered up the dead which were in them." "And death and hell (hades) were cast into the lake of fire.' See also Re 6:8; 1:18, "I have the keys of hell and of death." In 1 Co 15:55, it means the grave. "O grave (hades), where is thy victory?" In Mt 11:23 it means a deep, profound place, opposed to an exalted one; a condition of calamity and degradation opposed to former great prosperity. "Thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell, (hades.) In Lu 16:23, it is applied to the place where the rich man was after death, in a state of punishment: "In hell (hades) he lifted up his eyes, being in torments." In this place it is connected with the idea of suffering; and undoubtedly denotes a place of punishment. The Septuagint has used this word commonly to translate the word sheol. Once it is used as a translation of the phrase, "the stones of the pit, (Isa 14:19); twice to express silence, particularly the silence of the grave, (Ps 94:17; Ps 115:17 ); once to express the Hebrew for "the shadow of death," (Job 38:17;) and sixty times to translate the word sheol. It is remarkable that it is never used in the Old Testament to denote the word keber,
which properly denotes a grave or sepulchre. The idea which was conveyed by the word sheol, or hades, was not properly a grave or sepulchre, but that dark, unknown state, including the grave, which constituted the dominions of the dead. What idea the Hebrews had of the future world, it is now difficult to explain, and is not necessary in the case before us. The word originally denoting simply the state of the dead, the insatiable demands of the grave, came at last to be extended in its meaning, in proportion as they received new revelations, or formed new opinions about the future world. Perhaps the following may be the process of thought by which the word came to have the peculiar meanings which it is found to have in the Old Testament.
(1.) The word death, and the grave, (keber,) would express the abode of a deceased body in the earth.
(2.) Man has a soul, a thinking principle; and the inquiry must arise, what will be its state? Will it die also? The Hebrews never appear to have believed that. Will it ascend to heaven at once? On that subject they had at first no knowledge. Will it go at once to a place of torment? Of that also they had no information at first. Yet they supposed it would live; and the word sheol expressed just this state—the dark, unknown regions of the dead; the abode of spirits, whether good or bad; the residence of departed men, whether fixed in a permanent habitation, or whether wandering about. As they were ignorant of the size and spherical structure of the earth, they seem to have supposed this region to be situated in the earth, far below us; and hence it is put in opposition to heaven. Ps 139:8: "If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, (sheol,) behold, thou art there." Am 9:2. The most common meaning of the word is, therefore, to express those dark regions, the lower world, the regions of ghosts, etc. Instances of this, almost without number, might be given. See a most striking and sublime instance of this in Isa 14:9: "Hell from beneath is moved for thee," etc.; where the assembled dead are represented as being agitated in all their vast regions at the death of the king of Babylon.
(3.) The inquiry could not but arise, whether all these beings were happy? This point revelation decided; and it was decided in the Old Testament. Yet this word would better express the state of the wicked dead, than the righteous. It conveyed the idea of darkness, gloom, wandering; the idea of a sad and unfixed abode, unlike heaven. Hence the word sometimes expresses the idea of a place of punishment. Ps 9:17: "The wicked shall be turned into hell," etc.; Pr 15:11; Pr 23:14; 17:20; Job 26:6, While, therefore, the word does not mean properly a grave or a sepulchre, yet it does mean often the state of the dead, without designating whether in happiness or woe, but implying the continued existence of the soul. In this sense it is often used in the Old Testament, where the Hebrew word is sheol, and the Greek hades. Ge 37:35: "I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning." I will go down to the dead, to death, to my son, still there existing. Ge 42:38; 44:29: "Ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave;" Nu 16:30,33; 1 Ki 2:6,9, etc., etc. In the place before us, therefore, the meaning is simply, thou wilt not leave me AMONG THE DEAD. This conveys all the idea. It does not mean literally the grave or the sepulchre; that relates only to the body. This expression refers to the deceased Messiah. Thou wilt not leave him among the dead; thou wilt raise him up. It is from this Message, perhaps, aided by two others, (Ro 10:7; 1 Pe 3:19) the doctrine originated, that Christ "descended," as it is expressed in the creed, "into hell;" and many have invented strange opinions about his going among lost spirits. The doctrine of the Roman Catholic church has been, that he went to purgatory, to deliver the spirits confined there. But if the interpretation now given be correct, then it will follow,
(1.) that nothing is affirmed here about the destination of the human soul of Christ after his death. That he went to the region of the dead is implied, but nothing further.
(2.) It may be remarked, that the Scriptures affirm nothing about the state of his soul in that time which intervened between his death and resurrection. The only intimation which occurs on the subject is such as to leave us to suppose that he was in a state of happiness. To the dying thief Jesus said, "To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise," Lu 23:43. When Jesus died he said, "It is finished;" and he doubtless meant by that, that his sufferings and toils for man's redemption were at an end. All suppositions of any toils or pains after his death are fables, and without the slightest warrant in the New Testament.
Thine Holy One. The word in the Hebrew which is translated here holy one, properly denotes one who is tenderly and piously devoted to another; and answers to the expression used in the New Testament, "my beloved Son." It is also used as it is here by the Septuagint, and by Peter, to denote one that is holy, that is set apart to God. In this sense it is applied to Christ, either as being set apart to this office, or as so pure as to make it proper to designate him by way of eminence the Holy One, or the Holy One of God. It is several times used as the well-known designation of the Messiah. Mr 1:24: "I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God." Lu 4:34 Ac 3:14: "But ye denied the Holy One and the Just," etc. See also Lu 1:35: "That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."
To see corruption. To see corruption is to experience it, to be made partakers of it. The Hebrews often expressed the idea of experiencing anything by the use of words pertaining to the senses; as, to taste of death, to see death, etc. Corruption here means putrefaction in the grave. The word which is used in the Psalm—
—shahath, is thus used in Job 17:14: "I have said to corruption, Thou art my father," etc. The Greek word thus used properly denotes this. Thus it is used in Ac 13:34-37. This meaning would be properly suggested by the Hebrew word; and thus the ancient versions understood it. The meaning implied in the expression is, that he of whom the Psalm was written should be restored to life again; and this meaning Peter proceeds to show that the words must have.
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