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Part 7

Gehenna cont.


Before considering the passages of Scripture containing the word, the reader should carefully read and remember the following:


  • Gehenna was a well-known locality near Jerusalem, and ought no more to be translated Hell, than should Sodom or Gomorrah. See Josh. 15:8; II Kings 17:10; II Chron. 28:3; Jer. 7:31, 32; 19:2.
  • Gehenna is never employed in the Old Testament to mean anything else than the place with which every Jew was familiar.
  • The word should have been left untranslated as it is in some versions, and it would not be misunderstood. It was not misunderstood by the Jews to whom Jesus addressed it. Walter Balfour well says: "What meaning would the Jews who were familiar with this word, and knew it to signify the valley of Hinnom, be likely to attach to it when they heard it used by our Lord? Would they, contrary to all former usage, transfer its meaning from a place with whose locality and history they had been familiar from their infancy, to a place of misery in another world? This conclusion is certainly inadmissible. By what rule of interpretation, then, can we arrive at the conclusion that this word means a place of misery and death?"
  • The French Bible, the Emphatic Diaglott, Improved Version, Wakefield's Translation and Newcomb's retain the proper noun, Gehenna, the name of a place as well-known as Babylon.
  • Gehenna is never mentioned in the Apocrypha as a place of future punishment as it would have been had such been its meaning before and at the time of Christ.
  • No Jewish writer, such as Josephus or Philo, ever uses it as the name of a place of future punishment, as they would have done had such then been its meaning.
  • No classic Greek author ever alludes to it and therefore it was a Jewish locality, purely.
  • The first Jewish writer who ever names it as a place of future punishment is Jonathan Ben Uzziel who wrote, according to various authorities, from the second to the eighth century, A. D.
  • The first Christian writer who calls Hell Gehenna is Justin Martyr who wrote about A. D. 150.
  • Neither Christ nor his apostles ever named it to Gentiles, but only to Jews which proves it a locality only known to Jews, whereas, if it were a place of punishment after death for sinners, it would have been preached to Gentiles as well as Jews.
  • It was only referred to twelve times on eight occasions in all the ministry of Christ and the apostles, and in the Gospels and Epistles. Were they faithful to their mission to say no more than this on so vital a theme as an endless Hell, if they intended to teach it?
  • Only Jesus and James ever named it. Neither Paul, John, Peter nor Jude ever employ it. Would they not have warned sinners concerning it, if there were a Gehenna of torment after death?
  • Paul says he "shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God," and yet though he was the great preacher of the Gospel to the Gentiles he never told them that Gehenna is a place of after-death punishment. Would he not have repeatedly warned sinners against it were there such a place?
    Dr. Thayer significantly remarks: "The Savior and James are the only persons in all the New Testament who use the word. John Baptist, who preached to the most wicked of men did not use it once. Paul wrote fourteen epistles and yet never once mentions it. Peter does not name it, nor Jude; and John, who wrote the gospel, three epistles, and the Book of Revelations, never employs it in a single instance. Now if Gehenna or Hell really reveals the terrible fact of endless woe, how can we account for this strange silence? How is it possible, if they knew its meaning and believed it a part of Christ's teaching that they should not have used it a hundred or a thousand times, instead of never using it at all; especially when we consider the infinite interests involved? The Book of Acts contains the record of the apostolic preaching, and the history of the first planting of the church among the Jews and Gentiles, and embraces a period of thirty years from the ascension of Christ. In all this history, in all this preaching of the disciples and apostles of Jesus there is no mention of Gehenna. In thirty years of missionary effort these men of God, addressing people of all characters and nations never under any circumstances threaten them with the torments of Gehenna or allude to it in the most distant manner! In the face of such a fact as this can any man believe that Gehenna signifies endless punishment and that this is part of divine revelation, a part of the Gospel message to the world? These considerations show how impossible it is to establish the doctrine in review on the word Gehenna. All the facts are against the supposition that the term was used by Christ or his disciples in the sense of endless punishment. There is not the least hint of any such meaning attached to it, nor the slightest preparatory notice that any such new revelation was to be looked for in this old familiar word."
  • Jesus never uttered it to unbelieving Jews, nor to anybody but his disciples, but twice (Matt. 23:15-33) during his entire ministry, nor but four times in all. If it were the final abode of unhappy millions, would not his warnings abound with exhortations to avoid it?
  • Jesus never warned unbelievers against it but once in all his ministry (Matt. 23:33) and he immediately explained it as about to come in this life.
  • If Gehenna is the name of Hell then men's bodies are burned there as well as their souls. Matt. 5:29; 18:9.
  • If it be the name of endless torment, then literal fire is the sinner's punishment. Mark 9:43-48.
  • Salvation is never said to be from Gehenna.
  • Gehenna is never said to be of endless duration nor spoken of as destined to last forever, so that even admitting the popular ideas of its existence after death it gives no support to the idea of endless torment.
  • Clement used Gehenna to describe his ideas of punishment. He was one of the earliest of the Christian Fathers. The word did not then denote endless punishment.
  • A shameful death or severe punishment in this life was at the time of Christ denominated Gehenna (Schleusner, Canon Farrar and others), and there is no evidence that Gehenna meant anything else at the time of Christ.
With these preliminaries let us consider the twelve passages in which the word occurs.

"But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raea, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of Hell-fire." Matt. 5:22. The purpose of Jesus here was to show how exacting is Christianity. It judges the motives. This he affirms in the last sentence of the verse, after referring to the legal penalties of Judaism in the first two. The "judgment" here is the lower ecclesiastical court of twenty-three judges: the "council" is the higher court, which could condemn to death. But Christianity is so exacting, that if one is contemptuous towards another, he will be judged by Christian principles guilty of the worst crimes, as "he who hates his brother has already committed murder in his heart." We can give the true meaning of this passage in the words of "orthodox" commentators.

Wynne correctly says: "This alludes to the three degrees of punishment among the Jews, viz., civil punishment inflicted by the judges or elders at the gates; excommunication pronounced by the great Ecclesiastical Council or Sanhedrim; and burning to death, like those who were sacrificed to devils in the valley of Hinnom or Tophet, where the idolatrous Israelites used to offer their children to Moloch." Note in loc. Dr. Adam Clarke says: "It is very probable that our Lord means no more here than this: 'If a man charge another with apostasy from the Jewish religion, or rebellion against God, and cannot prove his charge, then he is exposed to that punishment (burning alive) which the other must have suffered, if the charges had been substantiated. There are three offenses here which exceed each other in their degrees of guilt. 1. Anger against a man, accompanied with some injurious act. 2. Contempt, expressed by the opprobrious epithet raea, or shallow brains. 3. Hatred and mortal enmity, expressed by the term morch, or apostate, where such apostasy could not be proved. Now proportioned to these three offenses were three different degrees of punishment, each exceeding the other in severity, as the offenses exceeded each other in their different degrees of guilt. 1. The judgment, the council of twenty-three, which could inflict the punishment of strangling. 2. The Sanhedrim, or great council, which could inflict the punishment of stoning. 3. The being burnt in the valley of the son of Hinnom. This appears to be the meaning of our Lord. Our Lord here alludes to the valley of the son of Hinnom. This place was near Jerusalem; and had been formerly used for these abominable sacrifices in which the idolatrous Jews had caused their children to pass through the fire to Moloch." Com. in loc.

We do not understand that a literal casting into Gehenna is here instilled-as Clarke and Wynne teach-but that the severest of all punishments are due those who are contemptuous to others. Gehenna fire is here figuratively and not literally used, but its torment is in this life.

Barnes: "In this verse it denotes a degree of suffering higher than the punishment inflicted by the court of seventy, the Sanhedrim. And the whole verse may therefore mean, He that hates his brother without a cause, is guilty of a violation of the sixth commandment, and shall be punished with a severity similar to that inflicted by the court of judgment. He that shall suffer his passions to transport him to still greater extravagances, and shall make him an object of derision and contempt, shall be exposed to still severer punishment, corresponding to that which the Sanhedrim, or council, inflicts. But he who shall load his brother with hateful names and abusive language, shall incur the severest degree of punishment, represented by being burnt alive in the horrid and awful valley of Hinnom." (Com.)--A. A. Livermore, D. D., says: "Three degrees of anger are specified, and three corresponding stages of punishment, proportioned to the different degrees of guilt. Where these punishments will be inflicted, he does not say, he need not say. The man, who indulges any wicked feelings against his brother man, is in this world punished; his anger is the torture of his soul and unless he repents of it and forsakes it, it must prove his woe in all future states of his being."

Whether Jesus here means the literal Gehenna, or makes these three degrees of punishment emblems of the severe spiritual penalties inflicted by Christianity, there is no reference to the future world in the language. "Unlike the teachings of Judaism, Jesus taught that it was not absolutely necessary to commit the overt act, to be guilty before God, but if a man wickedly gave way to temptation, and harbored vile passions and purposes, he was guilty before God and accountable to the divine law. He who hated his brother was a murderer. Jesus also taught that punishment under his rule was proportioned to criminality, as under the legal dispensation. He refers to three distinct modes of punishment recognized by Jewish regulations. Each one of these exceeded the other in severity. They were, first, strangling or beheading; second, stoning; and third, burning alive. The lower tribunal or court, referred to in the passage before us, by the term 'judgment,' was composed of twenty-three judges, or as some learned men think, of seven judges and two scribes. The higher tribunal, or 'council' was doubtless the Sanhedrim, the highest ecclesiastical and civil tribunal of the Jews, composed of seventy judges, whose prerogative it was to judge the greatest offenders of the law, and could even condemn the guilty to death. They were often condemned to Gehenna-fire or as it is translated Hell-fire. Jesus did not intend to say, that under the Christian dispensation, men should be brought before the different tribunals referred to in the text to be judged, but he designed to show that under the new economy of grace and truth man was still a subject of retributive justice, but was judged according to the motives of the heart. 'But I say unto you, whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment.' According to the Christian principle, man is guilty if he designs to do wrong." Livermore's "Proof Texts."


"And if your right eye offends you, pluck it out, and cast it from you; for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into Hell. And if thy right hand offend you, cut it off, and cast it from you; for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into Hell. Matt. 5:28, 29. "And if your eye offend you, pluck it out, and cast it from you: it is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into Hell-fire. Matt 18:9, "And if your hand offend you, cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into Hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched. And if your foot offend you, cut it off; it is better for you to enter lame into life, than having two feet to be cast into Hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched. And if your eye offend you, pluck it out: it is better for you to enter into the Kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into Hell-fire."
Mark 9:43, 49.

These passages mean that it is better to accept Christianity, and forego some worldly privilege, than to possess all worldly advantages, and be overwhelmed in the destruction then about to come upon the Jews, when multitudes were literally cast into Gehenna. Or it may be figuratively used, as Jesus probably used it, thus: it is better to enter the Christian life destitute of some great worldly advantage, comparable to a right hand, than to live in sin, with all worldly privileges, and experience that moral death which is a Gehenna of the soul. In this sense it may be used of men now as then. But there is no reference to an after-death suffering, in any proper use of the terms. The true idea of the language is this: Embrace the Christian life, whatever sacrifice it calls for. The latter clause carries out the idea, in speaking of


"Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched." Undoubtedly Jesus had reference to the language of the prophet. "And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, says the Lord. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched: and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh."
Isa. 66:23, 24.

The prophet and the Savior both referred to the overthrow of Jerusalem, though by accommodation we may apply the language generally, understanding by Hell, or Gehenna, that condition brought upon the soul in this world by sin. But the application by the prophet and the Savior was to the day then soon to come. The undying worm was in this world.

Strabo calls the lamp in the Parthenon, and Plutarch calls the sacred fire of a temple "unquenchable," though they were extinguished ages ago. Josephus says that the fire on the altar of the temple at Jerusalem was "always unquenchable," asbeston aei, though the fire had gone out and the temple was destroyed at the time of his writing. Eusebius says that certain martyrs of Alexandria "were burned in unquenchable fire," though it was extinguished in the course of an hour, the very insult in English, which Homer has in Greek, asbestos gelos, (Iliad, 1: 599), unquenchable laughter.

Bloomfield says in his Notes: "Deny thyself what is even the most desirable and alluring, and seems the most necessary, when the sacrifice is demanded by the good of thy soul. Some think that there is an allusion to the amputation of diseased members of the body, to prevent the spread of any disorder." Dr. A. A. Livermore adds: "The main idea here conveyed, is that of punishment, extreme suffering, and no intimation is given as to its place, or its duration, whatever may be said in other texts in relation to these points. Wickedness is its own Hell. A wronged conscience, awakened to remorse, is more terrible than fire or worm. In this life and in the next, sin and woe are forever coupled together, God has joined them, and man cannot put them asunder."

Will any one maintain that our Lord meant to contrast the life his gospel is calculated to impart, and the Kingdom he came to establish, with the literal horrors of the valley of Hinnom? I think not. Every one it appears to me must see the horrors of this place are used only as figures; and the question at once arises-Figures of what? I answer-Figures of the consequences of sin, of neglect of duty, of violation of God's law.

And these figures are not used so much to represent the duration of punishment, as to indicate its intensity, and its uninterrupted, absolute continuous character so long as it lasts, which must be as long as its cause continues, i.e., sin in the soul."

Dr. Ballou says: "This passage is metaphorical. Jesus uses this well-known example of a most painful sacrifice for the preservation of corporeal life, only that he may the more strongly enforce a corresponding solicitude to preserve the moral life of the soul. And if so, it naturally follows that those prominent particulars in the passages which literally relate to the body, are to be understood as figures, and interpreted accordingly. If one's eye or hand become to him an offense, or cause of danger, it is better to part with it than to let it corrupt the body fit to be thrown into the valley of Hinnom. . . . It is better to deny ourselves everything however innocent and even valuable in itself, if it become an occasion of sin, lest it should be the means of bringing upon us the most dreadful consequences-consequences that are aptly represented in the figure by having one's dishonored and putrid corpse thrown into the accursed valley of Hinnom."


"And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell. Matt. 10:28. "But I will forewarn you whom you shall fear: Fear Him which, after he has killed, has power to cast into Hell: yea, I say unto you, fear him." Luke 12:5. The reader of these verses and the accompanying language, will observe that Jesus is exhorting his disciples to have entire faith in God. The most that men can do is to destroy the body, but God "is able," "has power" to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. God iss able to destroy soul and body in Gehenna, while men could only destroy the body there. Fear the might power of God who could  annihilate man while the worst that men could do would be to destroy the mere animal life. It is a forcible exhortation to trust in God, and has no reference to torment after death. Fear not those who can only torture you-man-but fear God who can annihilate (apokteino.)

1. This language was addressed by Christ to his disciples, and not to sinners.

2. It proves God's ability to annihilate (destroy) and not his purpose to torment. Donnegan defines apollumi, "to destroy utterly."

That it was the design of Christ, to lead his disciples to reverence the surpassing power of God, which he thus illustrated, and not to make them fear an actual destruction of their souls and bodies in Gehenna, seems evident from the words that immediately follow. For he proceeds to show words that immediately follow. For he proceeds to show them that that power was constantly exerted in their behalf - not against them. See the following verses."

The word rendered soul is psuche, life, same as in verse 39, "He that finds his life shall lose it, and he that loses his life for my sake shall find it."
Also, John 13:37, "I will lay down my life for thy sake." The word psuche is translated "mind," "soul," "life," "hear," "minds," and "souls." Acts 14:2, "And made their minds (psuche) evil affected against the brethren."
 Eph. 6:6, "Doing the will of God from the heart," (psuche).
Matt. 11:29, "Learn of me. . . and you shall find rest unto your souls." (psuche).
Rom. 13:1, "Let every soul (psuche) be subject unto the higher powers."
 The immortal soul is not meant, but the life. As though Jesus had said: "Fear Not those who can only kill the body, but rather Him, who can annihilate the whole being." Fear not man but God. "So much may suffice to show the admitted fact, that the destruction of soul and body was a proverbial phrase, indicating utter extinction or complete destruction." Paige.

Dr. W. E. Manley observes that the condition threatened "Is one wherein the body can be killed. And no one has imagined any such place, outside the present state of being. Nor can there be the least doubt about the nature of this killing of the body; for the passage is so constructed as to settle this question beyond all controversy. It is taking away the natural life as was done by the persecutors of the apostles. The Jews were in a condition of depravity properly represented by Gehenna. The apostles had been in that condition, but had been delivered from it. They were in danger, however, of apostasy which would bring them again into the same condition in which they would lose their natural lives and suffer moral death besides. By supposing the term Hell to denote a condition now in the present life, there is no absurdity involved. Sinful men may here suffer both natural death and moral death; but in the future life natural death cannot be suffered; whatever may be said of moral death. Add to this that the Jews used Gehenna as an emblem of a temporal condition, at the time of Christ; but there is no evidence that they used it to represent future punishment.

That they did has many times been asserted but never proved. In conclusion, the meaning of this passage may be stated in few words. Fear not men, your persecutors, who can inflict on you only bodily suffering. But rather fear him who is able to inflict both bodily suffering, and what is worse, mental and moral suffering, in that condition of depravity represented by the foulest and most revolting locality known to the Jewish people."

Dr. Parkhurst observes Hell-fire, literally Gehenna of fire, does "in its outward and primary sense, relate to that dreadful doom of being burnt alive in the valley of Hinnom." Schleusner: "Any severe punishment, especially a shameful kind of death was denominated Gehenna."


"Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of Hell than yourselves." Matt. 23:15. Looking upon the smoking valley and thinking of its corruptions and abominations to call a man a "child of "Gehenna" was to say that his heart was corrupt and his character vile, but it no more indicated a place of woe after death than a resident of New York would imply such a place by calling a bad man a child of Five Points.


"You serpents, you generation of vipers! how can you escape the damnation of Hell?" Matt. 23:33. This verse undoubtedly refers to the literal destruction that soon after befell the Jewish nation, when six hundred thousand experienced literally the condemnation of Gehenna, by perishing miserably by fire and sword. The next words explain this damnation: "Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes; and some of them you shall kill and crucify; and some of them you shall scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, whom you slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation."

This was long before prophesied by Jeremiah, (chapter 19): "Then came Jeremiah from Tophet, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy; and he stood in the court of the Lord's house, and said to all the people, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Behold, I will bring upon this city, and upon all her towns, all the evil that I have pronounced against it; because they have hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words." Isaiah has reference to the same in chapter 66:24: "And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh." This explains the "unquenchable fire" and the "undying worm." They are in this world.


"And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; so is the tongue among our members, that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of Hell." James 3:6. A tongue set on fire of Gehenna when James wrote was understood just as in London a tongue inspired by Billingsgate, or in New York by Five Points, or in Boston by Ann street, or in Chicago by Fifth Avenue would be understood, namely, a profane and vulgar tongue. No reference whatever was had to any after-death place of torment but the allusion was solely to a locality well-known to all Jews, as a place of corruption and it was figuratively and properly applied to a vile tongue.

 Part 8 - Conclusion