An article titled "Thirty Questions for Teachers of Eternal Torment" seemed to call for my response. So, I will take that list of questions and respond to each one as time permits me to give it my attention.
On what scriptural authority is the Greek word Gehenna, literally ‘the valley of the sons of Hinnom’ and the city garbage dump in the time of Christ, translated as ‘hell’?
Answer: The Greek word Gehenna brought to mind horrible things. In whatever way it was commonly understood in Jesus' day, was the way Jesus used it. He did not try to correct misunderstandings of the after-life. He emphasized the common understanding of the term in His day. To capture that understanding, I call Henry Thayer to the stand. Henry Thayer is a scholar of the word.
Mr Thayer, can you tell us how the word Gehenna evolved in the mind of the Jews?
NT:1067 geenna (others would accent geenna, deriving it through the Chaldee.
In Mark 9:45, Rst geena), geenees (Buttmann, 17 (15)),
hee, (from geey Hinnom, Neh 11:30;more fully geey
Hinnom, Josh 15:8; 18:16; 2 Chron 28:3; Jer 7:32;
, 2 Kings 23:10 Kethibh;
, the valley of the son of lamentation, or of the sons of lamentation, the valley of lamentation,
Hinnom being used for nihom
lamentation; see Hiller, Onomasticum; compare Hitzig (and Graf) on Jer 7:31; (Böttcher, De Inferis, i., p. 82 ff);
accusative to the common opinion Hinnom is the name of a man),
Gehenna, the name of a valley on the south and east of Jerusalem(yet apparently beginning on the W., compare Josh 15:8; Pressel in Herzog, under the word), which was so called from the cries of the little children who were thrown into the fiery arms of Moloch (which see), i. e. of an idol having the form of a bull.The Jews so abhorred the place after these horrible sacrifices had been abolished by king Josiah (2 Kings 23:10), that they cast into it not only all manner of refuse, but even the dead bodies of animals and of unburied criminals who had been executed.And since fires were always needed to consume the dead bodies, that the air might not become tainted by the putrefaction, it came to pass that the place was called
geenna tou puros (this common explanation of the descriptive genitive tou puros is found in Rabbi David Kimchi (he flourished circa A.D. 1200) on Ps 27:13. Some suppose the genitive to refer not to purifying fires but to the fires of Moloch; others regard it as the natural symbol of penalty (compare Lev 10:2; Num 16:35; 2 Kings 1:1 Lev. 10:2; Num. 16:35; 2 Kings 1; Ps. 11:6 ; also Matt 3:11; 13:42; 2 Thess 1:8, etc.).See Böttcher, as above, p. 84; Meyer (Thol.) Wetstein on Matt 5:22);and then this name was transferred to that place in Hades where the wicked after death will suffer punishment: Matt 5:22,29 f; 10:28; Luke 12:5; Mark 9:43,45; James 3:6; geenna tou puros, Matt 5:22; 18:9; Mark 9:47 (R, G, Tr mrg. brackets it);
krisis tees geennees, Matt 23:33; huios tees geennees, worthy of punishment in Gehenna, Matt 23:15.Further, compare Dillmann, Buch Henoch, 27, 1 f, p. 131 f; (William Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, 3 volumes, American edition; Böttcher, as above, p. 80 ff; Hamburger, Abth. I. under the word Hölle; Bartlett, Life and Death eternal, Appendix H.).
(from Thayer's Greek Lexicon)
So, the following can be gained from the word "Gehenna":
1. It was originally the "valley of the son of Hinnom" which name meant "lamentation". The valley of the son of lamentation.
2. From it many miserable screams of children being sacrificed to Moloch could be recalled to think of the penalty paid in serving false gods.
3. It was a place that became of picture of misery and dread, a picture of lamenting.
4. It became a picture that illustrated the ultimate punishment for the wicked.
Now, I call Jesus to the stand.
Jesus, would you tell us if Gehenna is only a place for dead carcasses or bodies?
28 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. KJV
So, you are saying that Gehenna is a place where God can destroy soul and body? Yes.
Now, if Gehenna is only the garbage dump outside Jerusalem, can we destroy a person's soul and body there? No! Gehenna is the type of the antitype. In other words, the worst place you can imagine, which is the garbage dump whose history included the tormented screams of the sacrificial children to Moloch symbolized and typified the ultimate dread of the final punishment. Man can destroy a body in the type (Valley of the Son of Hinnom), but only God can destroy both body and soul in the antitype (Gehenna fire).
But, being the "unseen realm" the word "hell" (hidden) was used in English. "Hell" in the KJV covered all that realm that was "hidden" including hades, tartarus, and gehenna. Later, it seemed better to be more specific about the "realm of the dead"(hades), and "the realm of angels awaiting punishment"(tartarus), and the future destiny of the wicked (hell or gehenna).
Did Jesus Mean the Jerusalem Garbage Dump?
Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. NIV
Was Jesus saying that those who use hateful put-down words like "fool" will be in danger of the Jerusalem garbage dump? No, it seems that Jesus is cautioning on the depth of hateful, murderous words that will result in something that the human court cannot do, assign one to the ultimate dread, the fire of lamentation, all that the Valley of the Son of Hinnom typified. When we add the other verses to the mix we get a fuller picture.
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. NIV
If Jesus is only talking about where to throw my dead carcass, then I had rather keep my eye or hand. I don't really care where my dead body is thrown. I will feel the pain of cutting off my hand and the pain of plucking out my eye, and the pain and difficulty of living without my hand or eye, but my dead body will feel no pain. So, Jesus is not making a statement about the garbage dump where bodies feel no pain. Jesus is using Gehenna in it's ultimate antitypical sense, the final place more painful and tormenting than plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand and living without such. You can live without an eye or a hand, but you will not be able to tolerate Gehenna, the antitype of the Valley of Hinnom.
28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. NIV
If Jesus is only talking about where to throw my dead carcass, and that place is merely the literal Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem, then the body and soul can be destroyed in that garbage dump. If Jesus means that, then how can that do anything to the soul? What Jesus is describing is that there are far worse things than being physically killed. Men could kill and throw the carcass into the garbage dump, but men cannot destroy both body and soul in Gehenna. Therefore, Gehenna is much more than the garbage dump outside Jerusalem. It is a place that brings a dread worse than physical death. It brings a horror of something that can happen to body and soul by God alone. It is not the garbage dump outside Jerusalem.
9 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. NIV
Living with one eye after gouging it out is not something we would find easy to do or live with unless it was extremely necessary. But, Jesus says that it is better to live with one eye than to be thrown into the fire of Gehenna with two eyes. Not many people were ever thrown into the garbage dump, but Jesus is speaking of a real threat for every sinner, the threat of being thrown into the fire of Gehenna. In other words, the threat is a real threat. Every sinner who does not take sin seriously will be thrown into the fire of Gehenna, and the experience will be far worse than gouging out an eye and living without the eye. But, after I am dead, if there is nothing more than my dead body burning in the garbage dump, I will not care what happens to my dead body. My spirit will be separate from my body and my spirit cannot feel the physical fires of a garbage dump. What Jesus is speaking of is something that is worse than the pain of gouging out an eye and living without it, and the Gehenna He speaks of is the antitype that does indeed bring misery to the very soul and spirit in that realm of the dead.
15 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. NIV
A "son of Gehenna" is a son to be "lamented". There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Sons of Gehenna are poisoned by the Serpent whose end is the lake of fire. The Pharisees were not making "sons of the Valley of Hinnom" (sons of the garbage dump outside Jerusalem). They were making sons of the devil's place of assigned torment. There is a place prepared for the devil and his angels. It is not the garbage dump outside Jerusalem. The demons cried out to Jesus, "Have you come to torment us before the time"? They new that they had a destiny of "torment". Jesus said that people will go to the place "prepared for the devil and his angels"(Matt.25:33ff). The devils know that that place is a place of torment. To make a "son of Gehenna", one must be making them fill up with the poison of Satan, which will lead to a destiny with their place of torment.
33 "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? NIV
Jesus called them snakes, a brood of vipers because they were injecting their poison into others and keeping them under the sentence of condemnation to Gehenna. This was not a threat to have their bodies thrown into the Jerusalem garbage dump, but to go to the place of eternal condemnation prepared for the devil and his angels, that Serpent who injected his poison into our souls, and into others through us.
42 "And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. 43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where
"'their worm does not die,
and the fire is not quenched.' NIV
There is something that is far worse than the horrible thought of drowning. Imagine how horrible the thought of sinking into the sea with a millstone around your neck. You struggle to breathe and you watch the light glimmer through the water up above. Panic and great discomfort seize you as water and not air fills your lungs. It is a horrible way to go, but that is nothing compared to going to Gehenna. Living as a cripple is much easier than being thrown into Gehenna. Gehenna is described as a place where "their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched". Why is that significant if it is only what happens to a dead carcass with no feeling or awareness? How is being killed in another way and my lifeless carcass being thrown into the fires of the garbage dump worse than drowning or living as a cripple? What is the significance of "their worm does not die" and the fire is not quenched? It is a figure of speech, but it is designed to make us think of something that is horrible and does not cease to be horrible. It is unlike the Jerusalem garbage dump where the maggots die and the rains often put out the fire so that it ceases to be so horrible to the senses. It is far worse to experience the antitype of that dump, the place prepared for the devil and his angels.
4 "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. NIV
If the garbage dump outside Jerusalem is all that is meant by "Gehenna", then people can kill and throw you into Gehenna. The Gehenna that Jesus speaks of is the real, antitype of that horrible place outside Jerusalem. It is a place where only God can throw you. We need to fear God doing this to us more than we would fear people who can only kill our body.
6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. NIV
James is using the figure of speech of Gehenna as a fire of evil destiny that licks out and sets us on fire and uses us to set others on a course for fire. The tongue contains the poison that influences people to a course assigned to fire. In other words, we need to be very careful if our words are full of grace that lead to heaven, or if our words have corruption that poisons minds, lives, and assigns to the ultimate fire of Gehenna.
In conclusion, the term "hell" is a vehicle of thought, that originally meant "hidden", and later meant that hidden realm of the wicked dead. The word "Gehenna" evolved from it's typical association of that horrible place in Jewish history where children were sacrificed in fire to a false god, to the stench of garbage and decaying carcasses, to a fitting concept vehicle of the dreaded realm of the unredeemed after judgment. The type was visibly horrible and sensually putrid. The antitype was worse and was reserved for the final destiny of the devil and those who spread the poison of sin.
By what authority can one teach that Jesus meant literally ‘the valley of the sons of Hinnom’ and the city garbage dump in the time of Christ, and NOTHING MORE? By what authority can you assure someone that all Jesus meant was that your carcass will get thrown into the literal garbage dump outside literal Jerusalem? The words of Jesus do not allow that viewpoint. Gehenna is obviously much worse than man can do to the body. It is a proper word to depict the horrible destiny of the unredeemed.
Terry W. Benton
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