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.
Are those you teach ever made aware of the fact that Gehenna is a proper noun and the title of a literal place which exists on earth to this day?
But, likewise, the tabernacle was literal, existed on the earth, but was used to formulate concepts of eternal and spiritual things not having to do with this earth. What our questioner needs to do is show that Gehenna never meant anything more than just the garbage dump outside Jerusalem. As we have seen under question #1, this is clearly NOT what Jesus had in mind.
On the basis of what you believe concerning Gehenna, could you please explain Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:22; that saying ‘Raca’ made one accountable to the council, but saying ‘Thou fool’ was punishable by torment in flames for all eternity? Why the drastic difference in punishment?
Answer: Because Jesus wanted to take the progression of murderous words to a progression of consequences beyond the temporal judgments of human courts. Does our questioner really think that Jesus was saying that whoever says "Thou fool" was going to get thrown into the garbage dump outside Jerusalem? Who is going to throw people into the garbage dump? Is the council going to do this? It seems obvious to me that Jesus did NOT mean that there is danger of getting thrown into the garbage dump, but that there is danger of something beyond what the earthly council could do. It is also inconceivable that the court beyond the earthly council, namely God, would threaten that Galilean Jews would be in danger of getting thrown by God into the literal garbage dump at Jerusalem. But, that is what the questioner has implied in his/her stance on the meaning of Gehenna.
Since Gehenna is an experience worse than drowning, and far worse than cutting off a hand or plucking out an eye, and since Gehenna is a place where only God can destroy both soul and body, it is a place that could only be faintly typified by the literal Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem.
Could you please explain why none of the twelve New Testament references to Gehenna mention physical torment of any kind? If Gehenna is the word which describes the place of eternal physical torment, isn't this a bit odd?
Answer: First, it would not be proper to speak of "physical" torment, as if we will have a physical body. It would seem odd that the rich man was "tormented" in these flames in Hades (Luke 16:19f), but somehow we are to think that he might get some relief from Hades when death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire.(Rev.20:14). Is Hades worse than Gehenna? Could the rich man look forward to Gehenna where the torment would end?
Secondly, physical death is horrible. Jesus says that we should not fear physical death as much as we would fear God who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna. Gehenna would have to be much worse than the stoning that Stephen suffered. What is worse than being pelted to death with stones? Gehenna is much worse.
Thirdly, other verses relate to this horrible destiny without using the word Gehenna. The demons wanted to know if Jesus had come to "torment" them before the time (Matt.8:29). There is a place of torment prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt.25:41), and people will join them in that place of torment. The rich man lifted up his eyes in torment. Hades is a general word for the unseen realm, and can include the torment of Gehenna. Should we conceive of the rich man having it worse than those who are thrown into Gehenna?
Wouldn't it be really odd if Jesus' description of the rich man in torment was worse than Gehenna fire? Wouldn't it be odd if "torment" for the rich man could turn to his relief by merely "destroying both his body and soul" in the garbage dump right outside Jerusalem?
Terry W. Benton
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