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


003white  Index to Section 9B... The Future     >  Index to Hell     >    Hell Part II... Gehenna


The Problem of Hell Part II... Gehenna

Carol Brooks
Edited by Vicki Narlee

Introduction and Main Index

PART I...  SHEOL AND HADES. Why Are We ‘Translating’ Proper Names? Sheol and Hades Are Exactly The Same Place. Roots of The Word "Hell". Inconsistencies In Translation. Additional Reasons Sheol/Hades Is Not "Hell".... Jacob Expected to Go To "Hell"?, People went Down Alive Into "Hell", No One Can Be Rescued From, Or Be Returned to "Hell". Location of Sheol/Hades, Duration of Sheol/Hades, Affliction in Sheol/Hades? Tartarus.

PART II... GEHENNA. Gehenna, Mentioned in The Old Testament and The New, Was An Actual Physical Location. Jesus and Gehenna. That Deafening Silence. People Who Have Already Received A "Just Recompense".

PART III... ETERNAL LIFE IN HELLEternal Life vs. Eternal Death. Clarifying the Phrase “Eternal Punishment”. John 3:16. Eternal Life Vs. Death. Eternal Life Vs. 'Decay. Immortality of The Soul?. Eternal Life... a Result of Redemption. I Corinthians 15. Jesus "Died" In Our Place. The Second Death. Symbolism of Revelation. Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth.

PART IV... Difficulties with the Traditional Interpretation of The Parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus. A Biblical Interpretation of This Parable. Where The Idea Of The Torments of Hell Originated. "Choosing" Hell and The 'Joys' of Heaven. Infinite Punishment and The Character Of God. Not “Choosing” Eternal Life. Summary and Conclusion.


PART I... Gehenna
Gehenna Was An Actual Physical Location, Mentioned...
In The Old Testament
In The New Testament

Jesus and Gehenna

That Deafening Silence

Examining Jesus’ Teachings on Gehenna

“Hell” in The Old Testament

Part I

Gehenna Was An Actual Physical Location In The Old Testament
The word Gehenna was the Greek name for GeHinnom, an actual geographical site in Jerusalem, named after a real person. The Valley of Ben-Hinnom (the Son (s) of Hinnom), on the South West side of Jerusalem, is a deep and narrow ravine which once formed the border between two tribes. In fact, the earliest mentions of the Valley of Ben-Hinnom are in Joshua 15:8 and 18:16, where the boundary line between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin is described as passing along the bed of the ravine. I

    Then the border went up the valley of Ben-hinnom to the slope of the Jebusite on the south (that is, Jerusalem); and the border went up to the top of the mountain which is before the valley of Hinnom to the west, which is at the end of the valley of Rephaim toward the north. (Joshua 15:8 NASB)

    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 covered with grass, 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)

Note: Topheth (or Tophet) in the valley of the son of Hinnom (2 Kings 23:10) is identified as a "place of cremation" by Strong's Hebrew and Greek lexicon. Because of its similarity with the word tôph (a tambourine) some believe the cries of sacrificed children were masked by the beating of drums. This appears to be a popular story with no evidence to back it up. (See Topheth in Smith's Bible Dictionary HERE

The fiendish custom of child sacrifice seems to have been kept up for a considerable period, finally coming to an end in the reign of king Josiah who put an end to these practices by, among other things, destroying the altar and spreading human bones over it, thus rendering it ceremonially unclean (2 Kings 23:10).

The Imagery of Gehenna/Topheth 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 impeding judgment on them by the hands of the Babylonians, he said that Jerusalem itself would be made like Topheth, where the dead would be buried because there would be no other place to do so.

The valley of Ben-hinnom would be called "The Valley of The Slaughter" because, in just retribution, the Jews would slaughtered helplessly by their enemies in the same place they killed their defenseless children.

    hey have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind. "Therefore, behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when it will no longer be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of the Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place. "The dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the sky and for the beasts of the earth; and no one will frighten them away. (Jeremiah 7:31-33 NASB)

    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.... and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord of hosts, "Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter's vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place for burial. "This is how I will treat this place and its inhabitants," declares the Lord, "so as to make this city like Topheth. "The houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah will be defiled like the place Topheth, because of all the houses on whose rooftops they burned sacrifices to all the heavenly host and poured out drink offerings to other gods."'  (Jeremiah 19:6, 11-13 NASB)

However, the imagery was not used solely of the Jews.

Isaiah used it of the Assyrians, in the sense that the Assyrian army would be completely destroyed as if it were a large pile of wood, set on fire by the breath of God, in the valley of Hinnom...

    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 has be scratching my head is the fact that this very same place, Gehenna (or Ge-Hinnom), which has always been translated as "the valley of Benhinnom" in the Old Testament, is always translated 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.

It is claimed as MacArthur did (cited earlier), 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 be burned in Gehenna, consumed by a constant fire, kept burning, not to torment, but to disinfect.

However, there seems to be neither archaeological, nor literary evidence in support of this claim which, if you think about it, actually makes no sense. Jerusalem was not a very large city, at least not by modern standards and, life being 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 cereal boxes. Besides which, the Jews were instructed to bury their excrement.

    You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement. (Deuteronomy 23:12-13 NASB)

Exactly how many animal carcasses could there have been? For that matter how many criminals could there have been?

So, all in all, the story of the 'perpetually burning fires’ burning in the valley of Hinnom sounds suspiciously like a convenient backdrop invented to support the myth of the eternal fires of hell.  

What, however, is hugely important is the fact that you could have stopped any first century Jew and asked directions to Gehenna, and he could have pointed you in the right direction, or even drawn you a map that showed you exactly how to get there.

So, the question has to be asked, when Jesus spoke about "Gehenna", what place would have immediately popped into the minds of His listeners? Undoubtedly, the Jewish audience, very familiar with the valley just outside their city, it's horrendous history, and it's imagery used to signify judgment by more than one prophet, would immediately associate Jesus' words with the valley of Hinnom, rather than a place of misery in another world.

Jesus and Gehenna:
It is very interesting that, with one exception, Gehenna occurs in the New Testament only from the lips of the Savior Himself, and that not very often. Jesus used Gehenna three times in the fifth chapter of Matthew as part of a single message.

    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)

    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)

However, the theme of Matthew 5:29-30 is repeated in Matthew 18:9 and Mark 9:43-47.

    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)

    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 is a repeat of Matthew 10:28,

    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)

 The final two uses of Gehenna are found in a continuous diatribe against the Pharisees in Matthew 23, and convey a similar thought.

    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)

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

In other words, Jesus mentioned Gehenna in three basic teachings, two of which were directed at the Pharisees - not near as often as it may seem from a casual reading. Additionally, the Gospel of John leaves out these particular messages

However, what is truly interesting is that, apart from James NONE of the other New Testament authors said anything about it at all.

That's right! Not a single word about what is supposed to be the most terrible of punishments.

That Deafening Silence
What is truly amazing is that if Gehenna is a place of endless woe and eternal torment and the inescapable destination of everyone who ignores or forsakes God, then how 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?

    John the Baptist, who called the Pharisees and Sadducees "offspring of vipers" (Matthew 3:7), and asked who had warned them to flee from the wrath to come, did not even once speak of Gehenna, or warn them about it.

    The Book of Acts is an approximate 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 - n the context Jesus' triumph over it, which we 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 did not speak of Gehenna 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.

    And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell (Gehenna). (James 3:6 NASB)

If the early apostles believed that this fiery damnation - this after-death punishment for all eternity, was what the Saviour taught, then what are we to make of their very strange silence, especially considering the magnitude of the subject? One would think that they would have spoken of Gehenna in the clearest possible terms, not once, not twice, but a thousand times, so that there was absolutely no mistaking the horrors of the place they were warning people to save themselves from.

Yet, they said absolutely nothing.

Why not?

The answer is simple and relates to a point made earlier. Jesus was  the only person in the New Testament to speak of Gehenna, for the simple reason He was the only one whose words were directed at a strictly Jewish audience. Which brings us to another question...

If Gehenna is a future place of punishment for all sinners, why were the warnings pertaining to Gehenna directed almost solely at the Jews? Did someone forget to tell the Gentiles, 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 Hinnom outside Jerusalem. Had Jesus mentioned Gehenna to any of the Gentiles, their reaction would probably have been "huh!". They would not have had a clue as to what Jesus was referring to since Gehenna's physical location, history, and role in prophecy would have been familiar only to the Jews. Only they would have understood that the Valley of the son of Hinnom was used by various prophets as a symbol of God's judgment on the sins of the people, and it was this judgment that Jesus was referring to.

Part II

The following summary of Jesus’ teachings in which He used the word Gehenna, does bring up a couple of questions...

    1) a person who says "thou fool" is in danger of the fires of Gehenna (Matthew 5:22)

    2) It is better to lose a limb, or an eye, rather than be consigned to Gehenna (Matthew 5:29-30 and 18:9, Mark 9:43-47).

    3) People should only be afraid of the One that can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. (Matthew 10:28 , Luke 12:5)

    4) The scribes and Pharisees could not escape the judgment of Gehenna, and they made their converts worse sons of Gehenna than they were. (Matthew 23:15, 33)

1) Matthew 5:22
I will use the Concordant literal version's translation of this verse, since it uses the correct terms (Ex. the NASB says "supreme court" instead of the Sanhedrim and, of course, "fiery hell" instead of gehenna of fire).

    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)

The problem is that we have picked up on this verse without applying a modicum of common sense to it. Nor have we considered the context which, unfortunately, is par for the course for much of the modern church. [See Context is Crucial]

Common sense.
Our Lord gave the consequences of three remarkably similar situations.

    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

It is popularly held that the Greek word translated fool is moros, which is probably the origin of our English word moron. The Greek word rhaka means worthless, or even senseless or stupid and may be related to the Hebrew rêyq (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 that one person calling another a "fool".

So, 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 relating a particular derogatory word with a particular punishment.

In many ways, Matthew 5 was a face-off between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees, who were distinguished by a diligent 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.

In other words, they did a great job at keeping the ceremonial aspects, or letter of the law, but ignored the spirit of it. 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. 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) beginning 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 "thou 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. However, since murder, like all sin, begins in the human mind, Jesus 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)

(Note: The apostle John elaborated on this when he said "Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." 1 John 3:15).

Jesus then carried this concept over into adultery and lust.

    Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, that every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. [Matthew 5:27-28]

Continuing His train of thought, Jesus them immediately adds [All Emphasis 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 certainly not telling people to gouge their eyes out, but was warning, in very strong terms, that it would be very unwise for even our eyes to stand in the way of our salvation, since nothing on this earth is worth forgoing eternal life for. Therefore, it is better to forfeit even those things we consider necessities, than to live in sin. In other words, He was warning them, and us, to follow holiness, without which, as the author of Hebrews would later say... "No one will see God". [See What is Holiness].

"Unquenchable" Fire:
As previously mentioned, Mark 9:43-47 pretty much duplicates the message in Matthew 5:29-30.

    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 (Gr. asbestos) fire, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched (Gr. sbennumi).   "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 (Gr. sbennumi) "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)

However, Mark adds some detail, which he commonly did in his Gospel (either Mark himself, or his source had an extremely good memory and an eye for detail). He speaks about the fire of Gehenna being unquenched which is commonly taken to mean that the sinner is destined to burn forever in a fire that cannot be put out.

In order to understand what Jesus meant, we have to turn to John the Baptist, the man chosen to herald the coming of the saviour, who also spoke about an unquenchable fire.

    As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. "His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable (Gr. asbestos) fire." (Matthew 3:11-12 NASB)

John the Baptist's words simply echo those of other prophets in the Old Testament who also spoke of the Lord's anger as an unquenchable fire, i.e. God's fire/judgment cannot be stopped. 

    Therefore thus says the Lord God, "Behold, My anger and My wrath will be poured out on this place, on man and on beast and on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground; and it will burn and not be quenched (Heb. kâbâh)."  (Jeremiah 7:20 NASB)

    Circumcise yourselves to the Lord And remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Or else My wrath will go forth like fire And burn with none to quench (Heb. kâbâh) it, Because of the evil of your deeds."  (Jeremiah 4:4 NASB)

    O house of David, thus says the Lord : "Administer justice every morning; And deliver the person who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor, That My wrath may not go forth like fire And burn with none to extinguish (Heb. kâbâh) it, Because of the evil of their deeds. (Jeremiah 21:12 NASB)

Perhaps the passage that best clarifies this concept is in the book of Isaiah, in which the prophet prophesies that Edom would be permanently turned into a "burning pitch", the smoke from which would ascend for ever, since this fire can never be quenched.

    For the Lord has a day of vengeance, A year of recompense for the cause of Zion. Its streams will be turned into pitch, And its loose earth into brimstone, And its land will become burning pitch. It will not be quenched (Heb. kâbâh) night or day; Its smoke will go up forever. From generation to generation it will be desolate; None will pass through it forever and ever. (Isaiah 34:8-10 NASB)

The ancient land of Edom is in, what is now, southwestern Jordan, between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba [3]. If there was a place in the area where literal smoke rises up night and day, it would have been a scientific anomaly, which we would have all heard about. There is no literal smoke, and no literal burning pitch, anywhere in the south of Jordan.

So, obviously, God was using metaphoric language, which graphically expressed the idea that the sentence passed on Edom would be permanent. The unquenchable fire that Jesus spoke about in Mark 9:43-47 was the fire of God’s wrath, not any literal flames.

Their Worm Does Not Die
Finally, when Jesus said "their worm does not die", He was quoting Isaiah 66:23-24.

    "Then they will go forth and look On the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm (Heb. tôlâ) will not die and their fire will not be quenched; And they will be an abhorrence to all mankind." (Isaiah 66:24 NASB)

While I do not think anyone can be sure exactly what either Jesus or Isaiah meant when they spoke of a worm that does not die, the Hebrew word Isaiah used was tôlâ - a maggot. The same word is used in Exodus 16:20 in which we are told that when the Israelites did not immediately eat the manna as they had been told to do, but left it overnight,  it rotted, "bred worms (Heb. tôlâ) and became foul".

Since all worms die and bodies do not last forever, it seems that, once again, the language is metaphoric, used to graphically illustrate the permanent sentence passed on transgressors.

2) Matthew 10:28 and Luke 12:5

    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)

Warning as they do that the most that men can do is to destroy the body, but God is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna, these verses actually debunk the idea of hell being eternal punishment. They say absolutely nothing about God's intention to torment, but refer to His ability to annihilate. The word translated destroy, is the Greek apollumi, which means to destroy fully or kill, made clear by the following examples

    Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord *appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy (Gr. apollumi) Him."  (Matthew 2:13 NASB)

    and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. "But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed (Gr. apollumi) those murderers and set their city on fire. (Matthew 22:6-7 NASB)

    They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, "Master, Master, we are perishing! (Gr. apollumi) " And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm. (Luke 8:24 NASB)

    through which the world at that time was destroyed (Gr. apollumi), being flooded with water. (2 Peter 3:6 NASB)

(Apollumi, has occasionally been translated "lost", which does not quite convey the seriousness of the message)


“Hell” in The Old Testament... A Just Recompense
Earlier on I made the point that if Gehenna was a future place of punishment for all sinners, why were the warnings pertaining to Gehenna directed almost solely at the Jews and whether someone has forgotten to tell the Gentiles about the terrible punishment that awaited all sinners.

However, the question did not go far enough.

What I should have asked is why the warnings pertaining to Gehenna were directed solely at the Jews of Jesus' day? All the Old Testament Jews seemed to know was that the Valley of the son of Hinnom (Gehenna), would be called  the 'Valley of the Slaughter' when God's judgment came on than in the form of the Babylonians See (Jeremiah 7:31-33, 19:6, 11-13). 


Simply because there is no record of God ever uttering a single word on the subject of Gehenna being a place of future punishment.

If the popular concept of never ending punishment in hell is true, it is an unimaginably terrible fate. The related subjects of the salvation of Christ, and the horrors of Hell, should have been the two most talked about doctrines in Scripture, replete with warnings in terms so clear that no one could possibly misunderstand what is in store for them if they do not obey God's commandments.

Yet, as far back as the opening chapters of Genesis in the Old Testament, the Bible is strangely silent about "hell".

Besides which, if you read any of the books of the Old Testament, you will find that every transgression, be it by priest, king, or peasant, was promptly dealt with. The author of Hebrews makes a very pertinent remark about God punishing these transgressions. He said they received "just recompense". If they have already received "just recompense", then endless punishment cannot be true.

    For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty,  (Hebrews 2:2 NASB)

Adam and Eve
Note God's commandment to Adam...

    Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." (Genesis 2:15-17 NASB)

God said the penalty for eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was death. Not only did He not say a word about any punishment beyond this life, but there is a huge difference between telling someone they will "die", and telling them that they will live in anguish for all eternity. Why in the world would God conceal such a dreadful punishment behind the relatively innocuous word "die", and not tell Adam that, after dying, he would be forever tormented in hell. Or, are we supposed to believe that God forgot to mention the most devastating consequence of all?

In fact, the silence in the book of Genesis is deafening. Even after Adam and Eve transgressed, all we are told is that God did not want them to partake of the Tree of Life and live for ever (Genesis: 3:22), therefore He banished them from the garden (Genesis: 3:23). The man was cursed with having to work for food, the ground, that was also cursed, would hand him thorns and thistles (Genesis: 3:17-19), and the woman was cursed with great pain in childbirth (Genesis: 3:16).

All these curses would fade into insignificance compared to being forever punished in hell, yet not a single word is breathed about this. (Note that neither was a single word said about the supposed consequence of Adam's descendants inheriting his sin, and consequently not being able to respond to God. [See Original Sin.. Fact Or Fable? http://www.inplainsite.org/html/original_sin_fact_or_fable.html]

Cain and Abel
Similarly after Cain killed Abel, the Lord told him...

    Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. "When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth." (Genesis 4:11-12 NASB)

God said absolutely nothing about endless torment beyond this life, and certainly Cain's concerns were confined to this life.

    Cain said to the Lord, "My punishment is too great to bear! "Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me." (Genesis 4:13-14 NASB)

Noah and The Great Flood
In the days of Noah, the Bible tells us that

    Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5 NASB)

So except for Noah, his family, and the animals, aboard the ark, the Lord destroyed every living thing on the surface of the planet.

    Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark.  (Genesis 7:23 NASB)

But, while we are given details that are interesting, but not crucial, such as on what precise day of the month the ark came to rest of Mount Ararat and when the tops of the mountains became visible, not a single word is said about what is supposed to be the most terrible part of the judgment, i.e. the fate of the hundreds of thousands of people that perished in the water.

Sodom and Gomorrah. (Genesis 19)
These two cities are always spoken of as examples of extreme wickedness, yet, when the Lord brought judgment on them all that is said is that He...

    "...rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven, (Genesis 19:24 NASB)

In fact, Jude 7 says

    just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1:7 NASB)

If Sodom and Gomorrah were, as Jude said, to be examples of what unrepentant sinners can expect, then all we have to go on is the visible evidence.. the total destruction of those cities along with most of the inhabitants.

Even, when other people were threatened with the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, God spoke about a land so desolate and so barren that it would never be restored, but never once referred to the supposed ongoing torment of the inhabitants.

    All its land is brimstone and salt, a burning waste, unsown and unproductive, and no grass grows in it, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in His anger and in His wrath.' "All the nations will say, 'Why has the Lord done thus to this land? Why this great outburst of anger?' "Then men will say, 'Because they forsook the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt. 'They went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they have not known and whom He had not allotted to them. 'Therefore, the anger of the Lord burned against that land, to bring upon it every curse which is written in this book; (Deuteronomy 29:23-27 NASB)

    Therefore, as I live," declares the Lord of hosts, The God of Israel, "Surely Moab will be like Sodom And the sons of Ammon like Gomorrah-- A place possessed by nettles and salt pits, And a perpetual desolation. The remnant of My people will plunder them And the remainder of My nation will inherit them." (Zephaniah 2:9 NASB)

    Edom will become an object of horror; everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss at all its wounds. "Like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah with its neighbors," says the Lord, "no one will live there, nor will a son of man reside in it. (Jeremiah 49:17-18 NASB)

Besides which, as previously mentioned, the fire is eternal, but the people who are cast into it are completely destroyed.

The Blessing and Curses
Deuteronomy chapter 28, verses 1-14 lists the blessings that would come to the nation of Israel if they obeyed the Lord's commandments. Then, from verse 15 on, the rest of the chapter is devoted to the curses that would come upon them if they did not hearken to His voice and keep all His commandments. These curses are numerous, and include every facet of their lives including, their offspring, their health, their land, and their crops and herds. (Read the entire chapter).

They are warned of consumption, fever, inflammation, boils, scurvy, and the itch. They are told that they would be oppressed and robbed, and that a man would get engaged, but another would sleep with his betrothed. He would build a house, but another would live in it. The stranger living among them would prosper as they themselves would not, and others would enjoy the fruits of their vineyards. They would suffer hunger, thirst, and the desolation of their country by their enemies. Finally, they would be scattered among the nations of the earth, but would find no rest, and never have assurance of safety.

Not only was every single penalty to be imposed on them while they were on earth in their physical bodies, but this list of curses makes no mention of the worst one of all... an eternal hell.

What kind of lawgiver keeps the worst penalty a secret? Not even when the corruption and idolatry of the nation reached it's zenith do we hear of the nation being threatened with eternal torment.

Besides which, the entire history of the nation of Israel is a testimony to the fact that God carried out the penalties He threatened them with in Deuteronomy 28.  When the people were obedient, they prospered, and defeated their enemies. But numerous calamities befell them when they rebelled, including being taken captive by the Babylonians for seventy years.

A Few Examples Of People Who Received A "Just Recompense"

The Sons of Eli. After Eli's sons, Hophni and Phinehas, disgraced the priesthood, and Eli himself did not restrain them, God prophesied that both of them would be killed in one day. They were both killed very shortly thereafter in the great battle with the Philistines in which the Israelites were completely routed, and the ark taken. See 1 Samuel 2:27 and 4:1-11.

King Saul. The first king's reign was marked by a continuous disobedience to God's instruction beginning with his failure to wipe out the Amalekites. When he instructed the witch of Endor to summon the prophet Samuel, Samuel told Saul that because of his disobedience he would die the next day.

    "As you did not obey the Lord and did not execute His fierce wrath on Amalek, so the Lord has done this thing to you this day. "Moreover the Lord will also give over Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines, therefore tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. Indeed the Lord will give over the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines!" Then Saul immediately fell full length upon the ground and was very afraid because of the words of Samuel; also there was no strength in him, for he had eaten no food all day and all night. (1 Samuel 28:18-20 NASB)

David, guilty of both adultery and murder, was specifically punished by the death of his firstborn. However, in the final analysis David suffered a tarnished reputation, a kingdom in shambles, a disgraced daughter, several disgraced concubines, and four dead sons

Jeroboam the first king of the northern Israelite Kingdom of Israel feared that if the people went to the temple in Jerusalem, their hearts would be turned to Rehoboam king of Judah. Therefore, he made two "golden calves," set them up in the sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan, and encouraged the people to burn incense and sacrifice to these idols (1 Kings 12:25-33). When Jeroboam's son got sick, he sent his wife, in disguise, to the old prophet Ahijah, who knew who she was and sent a message to her husband that not only would the child die, but the Lord would utterly sweep away the house of Jeroboam, and that He would root Israel up from the land which he gave to their fathers, and scatter them beyond the river... "on account of the sins of Jeroboam, which he committed and with which he made Israel to sin." (1 Kings 14:10-16 NASB)

Ahab and Jezebel. When Ahab, king of Israel married Jezebel, he actually built an altar to Baal in Samaria, provoking God to more anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him. (1 Kings 16:33]. Jezebel also attempted to kill the prophets of the Lord (1Kings 18:13) except for those that Obadiah hid in a cave [1 Kings 18:4]. For their assorted evil deeds, as Elijah told Ahab, the Lord would bring evil upon him, make his house like the house of Jeroboam, and the dogs would eat Jezebel by the rampart of Jezreel. (1 Kings 21:20-23)

Abimelech was one of the most cruel and most ambitious of the kings. To secure the kingdom he slaughtered 70 of his own brethren, except for Jotham the youngest, who escaped. Later on when the inhabitants of Thebez fled to a tower to escape him, Abimelech tried to burn the tower down. However, a woman threw a millstone down, breaking Abimelech's skull. We are told that it was thus that

    Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father in killing his seventy brothers. (Judges 9:56 NASB)

Nebuchadnezzar When king Nebuchadnezzar talked about the might of his power and the glory of his majesty, he was told that the kingdom would be taken from him, and he would be driven from men, and forced to dwell with the beasts of the field, sharing their grass, until he realized that "the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes". (Daniel 4:30-37]

Belshazzar showed his utter contempt for the God of the Jews by drinking wine out of the sacred vessels of the Lord in honor of his idols of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone. In reply to this offense, the fingers of a man's hand wrote a few words on the wall while they were yet celebrating. The prophet Daniel interpreted the words as meaning that the king had been weighed in the balance... and found wanting, therefore, his kingdom would be divided between the Medes and Persians. As it turned out Belshazzar's kingdom was sacked that very night, and Belshazzar himself was killed. (Daniel 5)

Haman was hung on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.

Note, that in all the above examples, and the many more to be found in the Old Testament, specific punishment is inflicted on the transgressors while they lived, but the silence is deafening when it comes to any punishment after death.

In fact the Bible often speaks of hell as a place of destruction...

Continue On To PART III Click HERE


End Notes
[3] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/179376/Edom

[4] Dr. Norman Geisler in Hell—Part 2. (from Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Book House, 1999).

[5] http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/phaedo.html

[6] On the Resurrection of the Flesh. Chapter III.—Some Truths Held Even by the Heathen.

[7] Augustine of Hippo. Confessions 7. 20

[8] Origins of the Words "Jew" and "Judaism" Judaism 101! http://www.jewfaq.org/whoisjew.htm


The Future


"Artwork © by Duncan Long. Used with permission. All rights reserved"