What is “gehenna?” Is that the same as hell?

WHAT IS “GEHENNA?” IS THAT THE SAME AS HELL?

by Shawn Brasseaux

Gehenna(Strong’s G1067: γέεννα) is the Greek name for the Valley of Hinnom. The Hebrew is “Ge-Hinnom.” This ravine or valley is just outside of Jerusalem to the southwest. Today it is known as Wadi er-Rababi. It first appears in the Bible in Joshua 18:16, as a boundary of the tribe of Benjamin. Later, it became a place of despicable acts.

“And they [the Jews in Jerusalem] have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart” (Jeremiah 7:31). “Tophet” meant “place of fire.” There was a gigantic bronze idol in the Valley of Hinnom. This is where the Jews sacrificed their infants and young children alive to the pagan fire god Molech. “Hinnom” means “lamentation” (as in the cries of the children being burned alive). Jeremiah 7:32 and Jeremiah 19:6 call it “Tophet,” “Valley of the Son of Hinnom,” and “Valley of Slaughter.” Jewish Kings Ahaz and Manasseh sacrificed their children here (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chronicles 28:3; 2 Chronicles 33:6). The Valley of Hinnom is called “Topheth” in 2 Kings 23:10—King Josiah ceremonially defiled it in order to abolish the child sacrifices there.

In New Testament times, it was a trash dump where Jerusalem’s garbage was deposited and burned. Even the bodies of dead animals and unburied criminals were brought here. One Bible dictionary states, because of the valley’s history, “After the OT period, Jewish apocalyptic writers began to call the Valley of Hinnom the entrance to hell, later hell itself.” The Greek word gehenna is found 12 times in our New Testament Scriptures—Jesus used the term 11 times, and James used it one time. It is translated “hell” every time. On three occasions, gehenna is paired with πῦρ (G4442, pyr, “fire”) to read “hell fire” (Matthew 5:22; Matthew 18:9; Mark 9:47).

For now, just notice the term as used in the Bible:

  • Matthew 5:22: “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, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell [gehenna] fire.”
  • Matthew 5:29: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell [gehenna].”
  • Matthew 5:30: “And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell [gehenna].”
  • Matthew 10:28: “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 [gehenna].”
  • Matthew 18:9: “And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell [gehenna] fire.”
  • Matthew 23:15: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell [gehenna] than yourselves.”
  • Matthew 23:33: “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell [gehenna]?”
  • Mark 9:43: “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell [gehenna], into the fire that never shall be quenched:”
  • Mark 9:45: “And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell [gehenna], into the fire that never shall be quenched:”
  • Mark 9:47: “And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell [gehenna] fire:”
  • Luke 12:5: “But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell [gehenna]; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.”
  • James 3:6: “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell [gehenna].”

SOME WORDS ABOUT GEHENNA AND THE CULTS

Certain cults, particularly the “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” will go to great lengths to diminish the Bible teaching of eternal judgment. “Gehenna” is a term to which they often appeal in an effort to prove their denominational tenets. They will say that these instances of “hell” are not a place of everlasting torment, but just references to the trash dump outside of Jerusalem. That is, Jesus was making reference to the fires of the Valley of Hinnom rather than literal flames of everlasting hell. As I pointed out to a Jehovah’s Witness who came to my house just recently trying to promote her church’s teachings, the “hell” (gehenna) of the above verses goes far beyond the flames of Hinnom.

Take the following two verses for example:

  • Mark 9:43: “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell [gehenna], into the fire that never shall be quenched:”
  • Mark 9:45: “And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell [gehenna], into the fire that never shall be quenched:”

The flames here “shall never be quenched.” Fires in the Valley of Hinnom have long since died out (which the Jehovah’s Witness is forced to admit). Surely, no thinking person could ever say that the gehenna of Mark 9:43 and Mark 9:45 are man’s temporary fires on Earth! This is especially accentuated by verses 44, 46, and 48: “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched….Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched…. Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” By the way, verses 44 and 46 are omitted from the modern Greek text and modern English versions (including NIV, NASB, ESV, and of course, the Jehovah’s Witness New World Translation!). This way, they diminish the explicit warnings.

Now, consider the following verses:

  • Luke 12:5: “But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell [gehenna]; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.”
  • Matthew 10:28: “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 [gehenna].”

This is certainly not the Valley of Hinnom. Notice how only God has the power here to toss people into this gehenna. This gehenna involves not just the death of the physical body but also the soul. Such is hardly the language of any trash dump, no matter how intense its flames may be! If we study the way the Bible uses the term “gehenna,” provided we not want to form a denominational conclusion, we will discover that the Bible is speaking of something far more than just a trash dump.

CONCLUSION

Jesus took the term gehenna and taught doctrine of eternal importance. In a Jew’s mind, gehenna was the worst and most unclean place to imagine. It was there that their ancestors were burned in pagan human sacrifices! Also, it was where they would take garbage for disposal—including the corpses of dead animals and criminals! Our Lord Jesus warned of something far worse than this “trash dump.” God has a trash dump as well, and it is where He disposes the souls of those who refuse to trust His Word. He has no use for them in His program for creation, they are the vilest of all living creatures, and now they will burn for their transgressions for all of eternity! Indeed, that is the worst of all. But, the Bible says it, and the only way people go hell is because they wanted to go! God has offered His Son Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross as a fully-satisfying payment for our sins, that simple faith in Him alone could get us into heaven. But, if we want to suffer the flames of hell forever and ever and ever, never satisfying the wrath of God, He will give us the eternal abode of the damned!

Also see:
» Is Luke 16:19-31 nothing but a “parable?”
» How can a loving God send people to hell forever?
» Can Jews who believe in God, the Father, but who reject Jesus, be saved from eternal damnation?

One response to “What is “gehenna?” Is that the same as hell?

  1. Pingback: The Daysman #2 | 333 Words of Grace

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