Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Random Spot Check: Matthew 16:16-18

For this week's spot check, I decided to go with a portion of the Peter's confession about Jesus at Caesarea Philippi. This time, I have chosen five Catholic translations, none of which should be hard to determine. Can you figure out which one is which? Which one do you like? So, here we go with Matthew 16:16-18:

1) Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

2) Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

3) Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

4) Then Simon Peter spoke up and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus replied, 'Simon son of Jonah, you are a blessed man! Because it was no human agency that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my community. And the gates of the underworld can never overpower it.

5) Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.


Anonymous said...

2) NAB(RE)
3) DR
4) NJB

I could only get 1,2 and 3, had to check JB and NJB to decide which one for 4.
Number 5 I'm stumped though it was Christian Community or Good News until I checked.
I like NAB(RE) best.

John Blake.

Timothy said...

What interests me in this spot check is how all five translations use a different term for Hades.

Shazamaholic said...



3. DR (this is the one I like best. "Gates of hell" is far more definitive than the other translations, and I prefer "Christ" to "Messiah")

4. NJB (really don't like "community" instead of "Church"... is this where all the Catholic parishes get "St. ______ Catholic Community" for thier signs instead of parish or church?)


Anonymous said...

So 5 was RSVCE, I only have RSV2CE.

Good point, Timothy, you can almost know by just checking Hell,Hades,Netherworld etc. I like the word Hell best its modern and understandable by different groups of people, including children.

For the same reason, I like 'Heavenly Father'(NABRE) better Then 'Father in Heaven'(NRSV) because a chid may think of a deceased parent instead of God T
the Father.

John Blake.

Timothy said...

Of course, the question then is whether or not "hades" and "hell" are the same thing. While Hell may be easier to understand or more definitive, I am not sure it is accurate.

Dan Z. said...

No, hades is a pre-Christian concept from Greek mythology. Hell is the proper and accurate translation for inferi (Latin) and hadou (Greek). To use hades would throw it to the realm of Hercules, Zeus, etc.

Theophrastus said...

All five versions that you quote from have annotations (in the case of the RSV-CE, NJB, D-R-Challoner, and NAB, quite extensive annotations.)

The annotations reveal these translations' different "personalities." They are, from the perspective of both secular copyright law and Canon Law 825.1, an integral part of the translations.

Timothy said...

Note from ICSB NT on "the gates of Hades": In the OT, Hades-also called "Sheol" or "the Pit"- is the place of the dead where souls descend through its gates. It is not hell, but a temporary realm where souls are detained until the Last Judgement (Rev. 20:13-15). By extension, Hades is also the habitation of evil forces that bring about death and deception (Rev. 6:8; 20:1-3). (ICSBNT 36)

Anonymous said...

If "hades" is also "Sheol", why didn't the translators use "Sheol" instead? Everytime I hear "hades", I think of Zeus and the other pagan gods. It would be like if there were references to Thor and Asgard in the Bible. It just doesn't fit.

So, according to the ICSBNT, when a person dies, their soul could go to either Heaven, Purgatory, Hell, or Hades/Sheol? Would that make Hades/Sheol the Hell equivilent of Purgatory???? I have never heard this before. And don't forget Limbo, where the unbaptized innocents go (oh, wait... they told us not to believe in Limbo anymore).


Timothy said...


It is translated as 'hades' because the NT is in Greek. Hades/Sheol were temporary until the coming of the Messiah. A place for the just, before Jesus' work of salvation. Thus the only options now are heaven and hell. Purgatory is only a state, which is merely for the 'saved' on the way to heaven.

Anonymous said...

So, then, "the gates of hades/sheol will not prevail against it", means that once Christ was raised on Easter, that promise for the Church ended??? That just doesn't seem correct.


Timothy said...


I think the conclusion from the ICSBNT note is helpful: "By extension, Hades is also the habitation of evil forces that bring about death and deception (Rev. 6:8; 20:1-3)." (ICSBNT 36)

Anonymous said...

"By extension, Hades is also the habitation of evil forces that bring about death and deception".

Isn't that Hell? So, that brings us back to the original question why does some translations use hades, when hell is more accurate, definitive, and understandable?


Timothy said...

Where, then, did Jesus descend to after his death to free the captives?

Anonymous said...

"He descended into hell, and on the third day rose again from the dead".


Timothy said...


I think the distinction is necessary, since the Patriarchs of the Old Testament, as well as all of the just, were not suffering in the fires of hell as they awaited the coming Redeemer. Was this Ghenna?

rolf said...

I just received the 'Little Rock Catholic Study Bible' today. They kept the size of the bible to about the equivalent of the Oxford Catholic Study Bible, and since it has over 2600 pages, it is a little thick but very easy to handle. The page layouts are very nice, with single column. The verse references are on the outside edge of the page which is easy to use and much more pleasing to the eye. The font size is probably similar to St. Benedict Press' new NABRE bibles, which would normally be a little small for me. But this bible did a very good job with spacing and print darkness and did a good job avoiding bleed through. There are articles about reading and understanding the bible in the front, there are 16 nice color maps and the Sunday lectionary readings in the back. There are in page diagrams, notes and pictures throughout this bible. On most pages there is even room to write notes. I think this will be a very nice study bible for the average Catholic, not unlike the ESV Study Bible is for Protestants.

Theophrastus said...

I don't understand -- are you disagreeing with CCC 633 which claims "hell" is the same as "Hades" in Greek?

Timothy said...


Sounds pretty nice. Would you be interested in doing a guest review? Not sure when I am going to get a copy.

Timothy said...


Of course not, but is there not a difference between hades/sheol and the damnation of hell? The ICSBNT note on this suggests this. Was David or Abraham in the Ghenna of which Jesus speaks?

Timothy said...

CCC 633:

633 Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, "hell" - Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek - because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God.480 Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into "Abraham's bosom":481 "It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell."482 Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.483

For reference.

Theophrastus said...

Well, there is a belief among some that hell includes limbo, or both limbus patrum and limbus paurerorum (the latter being more controversial in light of the 19 April 2007 publication of the International Theological Commission). For example, we have Dante's Inferno. And for those who hold this position, there is a distinction between Sheol/שאול and Gehenna/γέεννα.

But the Church famously does not have an official doctrine on limbo.

In any case, ᾍδης/Hades is usually translated as "hell," as CCC 633 states.

Timothy said...


What then do you think is the better translation?

Theophrastus said...

In one limited sense, the NRSV and RSV-2CE (but not the RSV or RSV-CE) must be correct, because they simply repeat the Greek term.

(The RSV1971 translation of Matthew 16:18 is odd in the way that is not in agreement with the translation of Matthew 11:23 etc.)

Note that some eminent Catholic theologians do not fully agree with CCC 633; notably Hans Urs von Balthasar believed Christ descended to Sheol (this is a major theme of his Mysterium Paschale). Among non-Catholic theologians, Barth also had a complex view of the harrowing of hell.

The NRSV/RSV-2CE is thus compatible with the widest possible set of theological interpretations. But it is not fully satisfactory because it begs the question -- by refusing to translate, it forces the reader to understand what "Hades" meant in the New Testament, and that is quite a tall order -- something that a typical Bible reader might often lack. So even though it is the most accurate, the NRSV/RSV-2CE's non-translation ultimately begs the question.

It is not always possible to have a sufficiently precise translation from one language to another. There are many places where the Hebrew and Greek cannot be accurately translated into English. Or even if the meaning can be approximated in English, misunderstanding (especially in terms of subsequent theological exposition) is possible.

I think this is one of those places where exact English translation is impossible and a footnote is required, and indeed, the Catholic translations you quote (the NAB, NJB, and D-R-C) have lengthy explanatory notes on this very question.

This is also true of ecumenical study editions as well. I looked at the HarperCollins 2nd ed. and the NOAB4, and they both have an explanation of the term Hades at this verse.

If a reader ignores the footnotes, then he or she may misunderstand the translation.

Llanbedr said...

Do you think, perhaps, that Von Balthasar's position was thus as a consequence of his very questionable belief in a passible God?

charles said...

"Hell" is the better translation, for 2 main reason for the "average" Bible reader. First, as others have said, in English, "hades" signifies pagan Greek mythology (i.e., Zeus, Hercules, Mercury, etc.).

Second, as Tim pointed out, in the context of the Bible, "hades" could also mean sheol/limbo/netherworld, the temporary place where souls went before Christ opened up the gates of Heaven. Thus being temporary, the passage in question, "the gates of hades shall not prevail againt [the Church]" ends up being only a temporary promise that ended on Easter morning.

Thus, "hell" is the more accurate and understandable translation.

Theophrastus said...

Comments about von Balthasar's beliefs regarding impassibility would threaten to hijack this thread. I'll simply note that JP2 and B16 have praised von Balthasar's theology suggesting that his views are within the range of permissible belief; and that there has been considerable philosophical controversy in recent years about Thomistic impassibility [in particular, what the term actually means, both to Aquinas and to the Church Fathers] (see, for example, Gavrilyuk's Suffering of the Impassible God, an excellent book -- although from an Eastern Orthodox perspective.)

Jonny said...

Here is a more lucid explanation about hell from the Roman Catechism, article 5:


"As the pastor, by explaining the meaning of the word hell in this place may throw considerable light on the exposition of this Article, it is to be observed that by the word hell is not here meant the sepulchre, as some have not less impiously than ignorantly imagined; for in the preceding Article we learned that Christ the Lord was buried, and there was no reason why the Apostles, in delivering an Article of faith, should repeat the same thing in other and more obscure terms.

Hell, then, here signifies those secret abodes in which are detained the souls that have not obtained the happiness of heaven. In this sense the word is frequently used in Scripture. Thus the Apostle says: At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and in hell; and in the Acts of the Apostles St. Peter says that Christ the Lord is again risen, having loosed the sorrows of hell.

Different Abodes Called Hell"

These abodes are not all of the same nature, for among them is that most loathsome and dark prison in which the souls of the damned are tormented with the unclean spirits in eternal and inextinguishable fire. This place is called gehenna, the bottomless pit, and is hell strictly so­called.

Among them is also the fire of purgatory, in which the souls of just men are cleansed by a temporary punishment, in order to be admitted into their eternal country, into which nothing defiled entereth. The truth of this doctrine, founded, as holy Councils declare,' on Scripture, and confirmed by Apostolic tradition, demands exposition from the pastor, all the more diligent and frequent, because we live in times when men endure not sound doctrine.

Lastly, the third kind of abode is that into which the souls of the just before the coming of Christ the Lord, were received, and where, without experiencing any sort of pain, but supported by the blessed hope of redemption, they enjoyed peaceful repose. To liberate these holy souls, who, in the bosom of Abraham were expecting the Saviour, Christ the Lord descended into hell. "

So you see, "hell" refers to Gehenna, Purgatory, and Limbo. Modern translations ofter speak of this collectively as "Hades" or the "Netherworld" because the term "hell" has become synonymous with Gehenna in modern English. Of course, none of the above mentioned places are the same as the "lake" or "pool" of fire where hell will be cast after the Last Judgment.

Daniel said...

Jonny said, "hell" refers to Gehenna, Purgatory, and Limbo. Modern translations ofter speak of this collectively as "Hades" or the "Netherworld" because the term "hell" has become synonymous with Gehenna in modern English.

But isn't it also true that in modern English, "hades" has become synonymous with the realm of the dead in Greek mythology, not to mention the name of the Greek god Hades (aka Pluto)?

In the context of Matthew 16:16-18, where Our Lord says "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (the Church), He is obviously referring to the realm of the damned and the devils, not a temporary limbo that ceases to exist upon His resurrection.

As for the word Gehenna, wasn't that actually a fire pit where they would throw the dead bodies of paupers to cremate them, not a realm for the souls of the dead?

Llanbedr said...

Von Balthasar was a fine theologian indeed, and I, in no way, meant my observation to be a questioning of his orthodoxy - his disagreement with CCC 633 would naturally proceed, though, from his passibilist position.

Yes, Gavrilyuk's book is excellent, as is Fr Weinandy's 'Does God Suffer?'.

Sorry if this does 'hijack' the thread to some degree.

Jonny said...

The Roman Catechism cites Phillipians 2:10 in its explanation of hell, to show there are three places a soul may dwell: above, below, or on the earth.

" [9] For which cause God also hath exalted him, and hath given him a name which is above all names: [10] That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth:
[11] And that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father."

Again, "hell" refers to all of the layers of the underworld: each increasing in severity the further you go down the pit:

1. Limbo: Where the souls of the just awaited Christ to free them at his Resurrection. The Church has no official doctrine about the current status of Limbo.

2. Purgatory: Where souls are cleansed and make reparations before entering God's presence.

3. Gehenna: The place of damnation where fallen angels and damned souls reside because they chose not God.

This is what the Church teaches authoritatively by the Magesterium in the Roman catechism. Jesus was referring to these three places in the quote from Matthew. Either using the English word "hell", "hades", or "death" may be confusing, but when the word "hell" is used here, one tends to think only of the place of damnation, when, yes, purgatory and limbo are also part of hell, and below the gates mentioned in this verse. The English language has changed since 1582!

Daniel said...

When the word "hades" is used, one tends to think of Greek pagan mythology. English has changed since 1582, and "hell" is the clearest translation choice.

You are wrong, Purgatory is part of Heaven, not hell.

Gehenna, I think, was actually a fire pit where the dead bodies of paupers were thrown in to cremate them. It was not the abode of the souls of the dead.

Timothy said...

One of the things that this discussion has shown is how translating Hebrew/Greek terms and concepts into English is a difficult and many-layered process.

Phil said...

This also goes for "Heaven". Many newer Bibles change "Heaven" to simply "sky", and that radically changes the meaning in English. The passage where Lucifer falls like lightning from Heaven. Or does he simply fall from the sky?

Jonny said...

Here is further reference that purgatory is a part of hell from the New Advent encyclopedia:

Hell (infernus) in theological usage is a place of punishment after death. Theologians distinguish four meanings of the term hell:

hell in the strict sense, or the place of punishment for the damned, be they demons or men;

the limbo of infants (limbus parvulorum), where those who die in original sin alone, and without personal mortal sin, are confined and undergo some kind of punishment;

the limbo of the Fathers (limbus patrum), in which the souls of the just who died before Christ awaited their admission to heaven; for in the meantime heaven was closed against them in punishment for the sin of Adam;

purgatory, where the just, who die in venial sin or who still owe a debt of temporal punishment for sin, are cleansed by suffering before their admission to heaven.

I think part of the confusion here is that it must be understood that the New Testament does not necessarily mention specific "proper" names for the realms of the dead. It uses words to describe them so that the first century readers could understand. Hades, Gehenna, Abraham's Bosom, Paradise, etc. These are not necessarily "official" names, as if God has a printed map available in Heaven, but then again, who knows?

We know for sure that there is nothing impure in the presence of God, so purgatory cannot be a part of Heaven. Can anyone disprove this with a higher authority than the Magesterium in the Roman Catechism? The misconception about hell arises from the black and white Protestant notion of Heaven or Damnation only. This false teaching has diluted modern thinking, language, and culture to such an extent, it is unfortunately more accurate to use a more precise translation of the Greek "Hades" in this passage. Any yes, the authors of the Gospels knew it might evoke mythological imagery when they wrote it, but that was the word for the underworld in Greek, which was the meaning intended here.

Dom said...

For me, "gates of hades" has no impact whatsoever. "Gates of hell" has so much more meaning and authority. I find it interesting that it is the Protestant and Protestant-based versions that use hades, while the thoroughly Catholic versions use netherworld (NABRE), underworld (JB/NJB), death (Christian Community), and IMO the best translation, hell (DRV, Confraternity, Knox).

Somewhat off-topic, Timothy, although this does relate to the idea of translating terms and concepts into English. In Genesis, when the snake or serpant tempts Eve, was it an actual talking snake or Satan who shape-shifted into the form of a snake? I always thought it was the latter, but I came across a Bible study that explained it was not Satan, but an actual snake, and that before the fall of man, animals had the abillity to speak to humans.

Timothy said...


The serpent is primarily seen as a symbol of evil in the Bible. Certainly Genesis 3 is the main example, but also see Rev 12:3&9. I have heard, as well, the reasoning that the creature in Genesis 3 was just a plain old snake which could talk, but I don't find that convicing. In some way, that serpent represents evil. I think a helpful verse on this can be found in the book of Wisdom 2: 24, which says: "But through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it." Certainly a reference to Genesis 3 and the Fall, which makes a direct connection between the Devil and the tempting of the serpent/snake.