Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Grave in 1 Corinthians 15:55

Q. Does any Bible translate the Greek word αδης (Hades) as “hell” in 1 Corinthians 15:55? Why is it translated “grave” in the King James Version?

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

A. Our common English Bible (KJV) translates the word αδης 10 times as “hell” (Matthew 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14) and once as “grave.” I am not aware of any modern English Bibles that have hell in 1 Corinthians 15:55. However, the following 16th-century English Bibles have “Hell, where is thy victory?”

This changed with the coming of the Geneva New Testament in 1557, which has grave in 1 Corinthians 15:55 instead of hell. In 1568, the Bishops Bible again has hell, but in 1611, the King James agreed with Geneva, using grave. As far as I know, that has remained consistent to the present in Bibles translations based on the Textus Receptus and Majority Text. However, the 1881 Revised Version, which often rejected TR readings for their critical text, used the word “death” twice and does not have either hell or grave. Modern translations based on the critical text follows the RV is this change.

Tyndale’s Bible, in 1526, appears to be the first use of hell in 1 Corinthians. Wycliffe does not have it in 1382, but rather has death twice. However, Wycliffe translated from the Latin (which has mors/death twice) rather than the Greek (which has θανατε and αδη). Tyndale may have been influenced by Martin Luther, who has Hölle (hell) in his German Bible. The word “helle” is used in the Anglo-Saxon Gospels, translated circa AD 1000. I am not aware of any Saxon translation of 1 Corinthians, but it is found in Matthew 16:18, for example. The general consensus, though, is that they translated the Saxon Gospels from the Latin rather than the Greek. The Vulgate has “inferi” in Matthew 16:18.

Why would the translators use “grave” in 1 Corinthians 15:55, while using “hell” in the other places? The older Bibles’ use of “hell” obviously is not an incorrect way to translate “hades.” The King James Bible does so in other places. The context of 1 Corinthians 15 is the resurrection. This includes Jesus’s resurrection from the grave (vs. 4, 12, 20). The chapter concludes in a crescendo (vs. 50-58) of Christ’s victory over death by resurrecting the dead in Christ from their graves. Death is swallowed up in victory in the resurrection from the grave. Therefore, I think “grave” is a more precise rendering in the context.

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