Before considering the passages of
Scripture containing the word, the reader should carefully read and remember
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
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
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
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
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
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;
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
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."
CAST INTO HELL-FIRE
"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
THE UNDYING WORM
"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
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
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."
DESTROY SOUL AND BODY IN HELL
"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
Rom. 13:1, "Let every soul (psuche) be subject unto the higher
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."
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
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
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."
THE CHILD OF HELL
"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.
THE DAMNATION OF HELL
"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.
SET ON FIRE OF HELL
"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.