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Section 9B .. The Future
The Problems With The Traditional View of Hell

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What and Where is Hell?
Part III... Gehenna

Ge-Hinnom, an actual valley outside Jerusalem was correctly called "the valley of Benhinnom" in the English Old Testament. What is truly perplexing is that in the New Testament Ge-Hinnom (exactly the same place) was rendered ... you guessed it - Hell!  

Carol Brooks

Introduction and Index To All Chapters


ON THIS PAGE

Gehenna In The Old Testament
The valley of the son of Hinnom was used as a symbol of God's judgment on the sins of the people.

Gehenna In The New Testament
Ge-Hinnom was the name of the valley in Old Testament times, so how did its name mysteriously change to hell in the new?

Jesus and Gehenna
It is very interesting that, with only one exception, the only person to ever speak of Gehenna was Jesus Himself, and that not very often.

That Deafening Silence
Did the early apostles short change the Gentiles?

So Why Was Jesus The Only One To Speak of Gehenna?


 

Gehenna Was (And Is) An Actual Physical Location

In The Old Testament
The word Gehenna was the Greek transliteration of g-ben-hinnom (the valley of the sons of Hinnom), an actual geographical site in Jerusalem named after a real person. It is a deep and narrow ravine on the South West side of Jerusalem -  first mentioned in Joshua 15:8 and in 18:16 where it says that the boundary line between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin passed through the valley.

    The border went down to the edge of the hill which is in the valley of Ben-hinnom, which is in the valley of Rephaim northward; and it went down to the valley of Hinnom, to the slope of the Jebusite southward, and went down to En-rogel. (Joshua 18:16 NASB)

However, this now pleasant looking valley was once the scene of acts of unspeakable barbarity overseen by two of the most monstrous kings of Israel... Ahaz and Manasseh. 

    Moreover, he (king Ahaz) burned incense in the valley of Ben-hinnom and burned his sons in fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had driven out before the sons of Israel. (2 Chronicles 28:3 NASB)

    He (king Manasseh) made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger. (2 Chronicles 33:6 NASB)

It wasn't until king Josiah came to the throne that the fiendish custom of child sacrifice (and other pagan practices) was brought to an end.

The Imagery of Gehenna in Prophecy
Although king Josiah effectively ended this extremely cruel practice, God never forgot what had taken place there. When the prophet Jeremiah warned the Jews of God's impending judgment on them at the hands of the Babylonians, he told them that the valley of Ben-hinnom would be called "The Valley of The Slaughter" because, in just retribution, the Jews would slaughtered and buried in the same place they killed their defenseless children.

    "Because they have forsaken Me and have made this an alien place and have burned sacrifices in it to other gods, that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind; therefore, behold, days are coming," declares the Lord, "when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-hinnom, but rather the valley of Slaughter. (Jeremiah 19:4-6 NASB) Also see Jeremiah 7:31-33

Jeremiah was actually instructed not to pray for the people because God would not listen

    "Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not listen when they call to Me because of their disaster.  (Jeremiah 11:14 NASB)

However, the imagery was not used solely of the Jews. Isaiah said the Lord already had a funeral pyre prepared in the valley of Hinnom for the king of Assyria.

    For Topheth has long been ready, Indeed, it has been prepared for the king. He has made it deep and large, A pyre of fire with plenty of wood; The breath of the Lord, like a torrent of brimstone, sets it afire. (Isaiah 30:33 NASB)

In summary, the valley of the son of Hinnom was used as a symbol of God's judgment on the sins of the people.


Gehenna In The New Testament

The Same Physical Location
What is really perplexing is the fact that this very same place Gehenna (Ge-Hinnom) that English Bibles correctly render "the valley of Benhinnom" in the Old Testament, is always rendered Hell in the New. This does not make a whit of sense since both sections of the Bible are talking about exactly the same place. Ge-Hinnom was the name of the valley in Old Testament times, so how did its name mysteriously change to hell in the new???

It is claimed that, in later years, the Valley of Benhinnom became the common dump site for all the refuse of Jerusalem. Rubbish, animal carcasses, and the dead bodies of criminals were all said to consumed by a fire constantly kept burning in the valley.

Not only is there a complete lack of archaeological or literary evidence that supports this claim but it doesn't even make any sense.

Consider - Jerusalem was not a very large city, at least not by modern standards. The book AD 33: The Year that Changed the World by Colin Duriez points out that, the number must have dramatically increased during the feasts, in all likelihood Jerusalem's population was usually between 60 and 120,000. Life was much simpler in the first century - people did not have as many possessions as we do and certainly did not produce anywhere near as much garbage - i.e. no paper, no plastics, no food cartons, disposable diapers etc. And how many animal carcasses could there have been? For that matter how many criminals could there have been?

So where did the story originate?

    "... near as anyone can tell, the earliest mention we have of this theory comes a Rabbi named David Kimhi who wrote a commentary on Psalm 27 in the 13th Century. He remarked

    "Gehenna is a repugnant place, into which filth and cadavers are thrown, and in which fires perpetually burn in order to consume the filth and bones; on which account, by analogy, the judgement of the wicked is called 'Gehenna.

    That's it. That's the earliest reference we have to it- a Rabbi writing in the middle ages from Europe, not Israel, some 1100 years after Jesus was born. He does not tell us where he got that information from and that is all we hear of it. There's nothing before that. There is no mention in the tons upon tons of writings we have from Church Fathers, Christian and Jewish writers, or even secular writers for that matter. [Pulpit and Pen. The Burning Garbage Dump of Gehenna- Myths That'll Preach. The Burning Garbage Dump of Gehenna- Myths That'll Preach. https://pulpitandpen.org/2014/06/05/the-burning-garbage-dump-of-gehenna-myths-thatll-preach/]

The myth of the ever burning fires in Gehenna continues to be perpetuated for one reason and one reason only - it supports the idea of the eternal fires of hell. Even Rabbi David Kimhi saw the place as an analogy.

Also See The Myth of the Burning Garbage Dump of Gehenna

And here is an additional problem - Gehenna was such a well known (read notorious) valley just outside the city - had you back in first century Jerusalem stopped and asked a passerby directions to Gehenna, they would have pointed you in the right direction.

So, let me ask you this - when, without any explanation or elaboration, Jesus used the word "Gehenna", do you seriously think that the first thing that would have popped into the heads of His listeners would have been a place of misery in the afterlife that they had never even heard of?  Or does it make sense that they would have immediately thought of the infamous valley of Hinnom just outside their city? 

Jesus' Jewish audience, more than familiar with the words of the prophets, would immediately have understood that He was warning them of God's judgment.


Jesus and Gehenna:
It is very interesting that, with only one exception, the only person to ever speak of Gehenna was Jesus Himself, and that not very often.

    1) But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell (Gehenna). (Matthew 5:22 NASB) See Footnote

He also spoke of Gehenna in Matthew 5:29-30 and pretty much repeated the message in Matthew 18:9.

    2) If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell (Gehenna) . "If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell (Gehenna). (Matthew 5:29-30 NASB)

    If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. "If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell (Gehenna) (Matthew 18:8-9 NASB)

Mark 9:43-47 says exactly the same thing as the above two quotes

    If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell (Gehenna), into the unquenchable fire, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] "If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell (Gehenna), [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] "If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell (Gehenna), (Mark 9:43-47 NASB)

Similarly Luke 12:5 and Matthew 10:28 are parallel passages

    3) Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Gehenna). (Matthew 10:28 NASB)

    But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell (Gehenna); yes, I tell you, fear Him! (Luke 12:5 NASB)

In other words, Jesus only mentioned Gehenna in three basic teachings - not near as often as it may seem from a casual reading.

The final two uses of Gehenna are found in a diatribe against the Pharisees. Both passages essentially say the same thing

    4) Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell (Gehenna) as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15 NASB)

    5) You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell (Gehenna)? (Matthew 23:33 NASB)


That Deafening Silence
If the popular concept of never ending punishment in hell is the inescapable destination of everyone who ignores or forsakes the Gospel, then the salvation offered by Christ and the unimaginable horrors of Hell, should have been the two most repeated messages in the New Testament. People should have been warned in language so clear that no one could possibly misunderstand what was in store for them if they did not obey God's commandments.

How then do we account for the fact that other than these few uses by the Saviour, the rest of the New Testament authors, with the sole exception of James, never even once mentioned Gehenna?

That's right! None of them said a single word about what is supposed to be the most terrible of punishments.

    The Book of Acts is an approximately 30 year history of the early church, from it's fledgling beginnings to its spread among the Gentiles. Yet, the early apostles who took the Gospel to men of all nations, never once saw fit to warn people of the torments of Gehenna. The fact is that they never even hinted of such a place.

    Paul who wrote 14 different epistles which make up about two thirds of the New Testament and said he did not shrink from declaring to them "the whole purpose of God" (Act 20:27) never once mentioned the horrors of Gehenna. He did however, speak of Hades in 1 Corinthians 15:55 - in the context of Jesus' triumph over it, which I will come to later.

    John, who wrote the gospel, three epistles, and the Book of Revelation, never once mentioned eternal torment in Gehenna.

    Peter never mentioned a place of eternal woe. Neither did Jude.

    Even James who actually used the word Gehenna did not speak of it in terms of future punishment, but simply said that the tongue can be a terrible instrument of evil and can do so much damage, sparked by the fire of Gehenna. (James 3:6)


So Why Was Jesus The Only One To Speak of Gehenna?
The answer is extraordinarily simple. Jesus was virtually the only person in the New Testament to speak of Gehenna because He was the only one who's teachings were directed at a strictly Jewish audience.

Which brings up another question...

If Gehenna was a future place of punishment for all sinners, why was nothing said to the Gentiles? Did someone forget to tell them, or did the early apostles conspire amongst themselves to not warn the Gentiles about the terrible punishment that awaited all sinners?

And since no completely sane Bible believer would entertain either of these two possibilities, the answer has to lie elsewhere - which it does.

Jesus spoke about Gehenna to his audience simply because He was speaking of the valley of Ben-hinnom outside Jerusalem a place that most Gentiles would not have known anythin about. Had the apostles later mentioned Gehenna to any of the Gentiles, their reaction would probably have been "huh!" - because they would have been largely ignorant about Gehenna's physical location, history, and role in prophecy.

Only the Jews would have understood that GeHinnom was used by various prophets as a symbol of God's judgment on the sins of the people.

Gehenna Never Was And Never Will Be A Place Of Eternal Torment.  In fact the Bible often speaks of hell as a place of destruction...


Continue on To PART IV- Those Overlooked Greek Words
Why Are We Ignoring So Many Greek Words
that tell us that the punishment for sin is "death" - people are destroyed, perish, decay, rot etc.. Also based on the fact that the Bible says God created mankind in His own image, many Christians believe that the soul is immortal.
The Bible clearly contradicts this belief. Finally, about the second death - Someone has to die before you can say there is a death. HERE

 

Bible1-Bar 

Footnote -  Matthew 5:22
Because the NASB says "fiery hell" and the KJV says "hell fire" instead of 'Gehenna of fire', I am using the Concordant Literal Version

    I am saying to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to the judging. Yet whoever may be saying to his brother, 'Raka!' shall be liable to the Sanhedrin. Yet whoever may be saying, 'Stupid!' (Gr. moros) shall be liable to the Gehenna of fire. (Matthew 5:22 CLV)

Our Lord warned of the consequences of three remarkably similar actions.

  • Angry with brother without a cause = danger of the judgment
  • Calling a brother Raca (Gr. rhaka) = danger of the council
  • Calling a brother a fool (Gr. moros) = danger of Gehenna fire

The Greek word moros (fool) is probably where our English word moron came from. The Greek word rhaka means worthless, senseless or stupid and may be related to the Hebrew ryq (empty).

There is not a whole lot of difference between the two, certainly not enough to justify such a supposedly huge difference in punishment. (The most the council could do would be to sentence someone to death, while hellfire is popularly supposed to go on forever). In any case, any sensible person should realize that all three consequences are hugely out of proportion to the offenses. Besides which, it is very unlikely the the Jewish council or Sanhedrin would bother with a case that involved no more than one person calling another a "fool".

Why in the world would someone who calls his brother an idiot be liable for the judgment especially when Jesus Himself was not adverse to using the term Himself

    You fools (Gr. moros) and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? (Matthew 23:17 NASB)

What we need to do, as always, is examine the context. And, when we do, we will find that, as He often did, Jesus was making a very strong point, not literally assigning particular punishment.
 

Context, Context, Context.
In many ways, Matthew 5 was a face-off between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees, who were distinguished by a scrupulous outward obedience to God's law in order to merit blessing, all the while bragging that they were not sinners like other men. They took great pains to avoid offense in very small matters, scrupulously observing the smallest technical details of the law, while ignoring the bigger moral issues of hypocrisy, deceit, oppression, and lust. For example, they seemed to completely overlook the fact that one of the basic precepts of the laws of Leviticus was that the widows and orphans be protected.

In other words, they did a great job at keeping the ceremonial aspects or letter of the Law but ignored the spirit of it. As Jesus told them...

    Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation" (Matt. 23:14).

Beginning in the second half of Matthew 5, Jesus zeroed in on the spirit of the Law. He quoted several of God's commandments (verses 21, 27, 33, 43) prefacing each example with the words.. "You have heard that it was said, but I say to you ". He was showing how the scribes and Pharisees interpreted and outwardly obeyed each law, then revealed what God's true intent was in each case.

For More On This Topic See Jesus and The Law

In the first example, Jesus expanded the meaning of the sixth commandment "you shall not kill" (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17), which is better translated you shall do no murder. Prior to this, unjustified negative feeling towards another human being was acceptable - as long as one did not actually commit murder. Jesus, well aware that like all sin murder usually begins in the human mind, was addressing the adverse emotion behind the deed and calling it wrong (Vs. 21-26), making the point that the perpetrator would be in danger of the judgment.

    "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (Matthew 5:22-24 NASB)

Jesus then carried this concept over into adultery and lust.

    "You have heard that it was said, 'You Shall Not Commit Adultery'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28 NASB)

Continuing His train of thought, Jesus them immediately added

    If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell (Gehenna). "If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell (Gehenna). (Matthew 5:29-30 NASB)

In other words, Jesus was  not telling people to gouge their eyes out, but was warning in very strong terms, that nothing on this earth is worth forgoing eternal life for. It is better to forfeit even those things we consider necessities, than to live in sin. [PLACE IN TEXT]

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