A place of interment. Though today the term “grave” is generally understood to apply to an excavation in the earth for use as a place of burial, a common method of burial among the Hebrews and other Oriental peoples was by use of a natural cave or a rock-cut tomb, or vault. The Hebrew word qeʹver is the common word used to designate a burial place, a grave, or a graveyard. (Ge 23:7-9; Jer 8:1; 26:23) The related word qevu·rahʹ similarly may refer to an earthen grave or to a tomb excavated in rock.—Ge 35:20; 1Sa 10:2.
In Greek the common word for grave is taʹphos (Mt 28:1), and the verb form (thaʹpto) means “bury.” (Mt 8:21, 22) The word mneʹma (Lu 23:53) refers to a tomb and the word mne·meiʹon (Lu 23:55) refers to a memorial tomb.
Since these Hebrew and Greek words refer to an individual burial place or grave site, they are often used in the plural as referring to many such graves. They are, therefore, distinct from the Hebrew sheʼohlʹ and its Greek equivalent haiʹdes, which refer to the common grave of mankind, or gravedom, and hence are always used in the singular. For this reason many modern translations have not followed the practice of the King James Version, in which sheʼohlʹ and haiʹdes are alternately rendered by the words “hell,” “grave,” and “pit,” but have instead simply transliterated them into English.—See HADES; SHEOL.
Nevertheless, since one’s entry into Sheol is represented as taking place through burial in an individual grave or at a burial site, words pertaining to such places of interment are used as parallel though not equivalent terms with Sheol.—Job 17:1, 13-16; 21:13, 32, 33; Ps 88:3-12.
At Romans 3:13 the apostle Paul quotes Psalm 5:9, likening the throat of wicked and deceitful men to “an opened grave.” As an opened grave is to be filled with the dead and with corruption, their throat opens for speech that is deadly and corrupt.—Compare Mt 15:18-20.
It was a custom to whitewash graves so that persons would not accidentally touch them and become unclean. The tombs near Jerusalem were whitewashed one month before Passover to prevent a person from becoming unclean at this special period of worship by accidentally touching a grave. Jesus used this custom as a basis for an illustration of the scribes and Pharisees as appearing righteous outwardly but inside being “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”—Mt 23:27, 28.
Although the grave is likened to a pit from which man rightly desires to be delivered, Job draws attention to the despair of those suffering persons who, lacking a clear hope or understanding of their Creator’s purposes, seek death and “exult because they find a burial place.” (Job 3:21, 22) Such attitude contrasts sharply with that of men who devoted their lives to their Creator’s service and confidently embraced the promise of a resurrection.—Ps 16:9-11; Ac 24:15; Php 1:21-26; 2Ti 4:6-8; Heb 11:17-19; see BURIAL, BURIAL PLACES.