Salvation 2.0: Part 3.5: Gehenna

grace5Jesus and James refer to the fate of the damned as gehenna, usually translated “hell.”

The word is entirely absent from Paul and the other NT writers, who prefer to speak in terms of the damned being destroyed. There is no word for “hell” in the Pauline epistles.

(Interesting, no? How could Paul write half the NT and say nothing about hell, when Jesus said so much? Maybe because we’re misunderstanding Jesus.)

The name means “Valley of Hinnom” or its full form “Valley of the son of Hinnom” … .

The valley was the scene of the idolatrous worship of the Canaanite gods Molech and Baal. This worship consisted of sacrificing children by passing them through a fire on Topheth (a high place) and into the hands of the gods (Jer 7:31; 19:4–5; 32:35). These practices were observed during monarchy at least under the reigns of Ahaz and Manasseh who themselves sacrificed their own children (2 Kgs 16:3; 21:6; 2 Chr 28:3; 33:6).

Josiah defiled the site as part of his reform program (2 Kgs 23:10; cf. vv 13–14), but the prophecy of Jeremiah indicates that it probably recurred later in the monarchy. Jeremiah prophesied that it would no longer be called Topheth or the Valley of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter because of the numerous Judeans killed and thrown into it by the Babylonians (Jer 7:29–34; 19:1–15). …

Other reasons given for the association are the fact that the Valley of Hinnom was noted for the fires of the Molech cult and later contained the continually burning fires of a refuse dump. Although Gehenna does not have these associations in the OT, the OT is the primary source of the association, particularly the prophecies of Jeremiah regarding the dead bodies of the wicked cast into Gehenna (7:29–34; 19:6–9; 32:35). The prophecies of Isaiah which ironically prophesy the threat of the Topheth readied for Molech himself (30:33), a devouring fire and everlasting burnings, and of a fire that will not be quenched readied for the wicked all contributed to the association (33:14; 66:24; cf. Isa 50:11; Dan 12:2; Mal 3:19).

Duane F. Watson, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 1992, 2, 926-927.

In short, gehenna refers to a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem, which is also the place where babies were burned alive as sacrifices to pagan gods. It’s a place of fire, burning, and suffering. But the garbage dump idea remains — at least as Jesus used the word.

(Mat 5:29-30 ESV) 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell [gehenna= garbage dump].  30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell [gehenna= garbage dump]

(Mat 18:9 ESV)  9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell [garbage dump] of fire.

It makes perfect sense to compare God throwing someone into gehenna to throwing away an eye. “Throw” or “throw away” is the same Greek verb when used of eyes and of people.

The idea of gehenna isn’t eternal conscious torment so much as being burned up and consumed, like garbage. Whatever is tossed in the fire is destroyed.

(Mat 10:28 ESV) And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell [garbage dump].

Why is God’s vengeance worse than a human’s? Humans can only kill you. God can not only kill you in this age, but he can then destroy you for all eternity — denying you the resurrection and punishing you for your sins.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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5 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 3.5: Gehenna

  1. Jeff Hennen says:

    Many christians would be surprised to learn that when Jesus referenced “Gehenna”, He was speaking of an actual geographical location on earth, just Southwest of Jerusalem… The “Valley of Hinnom.” This valley, or perhaps even the smoke rising from the perpetual burning of refuse may have been literally in view of Jesus and those to whom He was speaking. Similarly, James of Jerusalem could speak of this “Hell” with the expectation that his immediate audience of readers would be acquainted with it as well. For Paul to describe eternal destruction as “Gehenna” to Macedonians, or people in Achaia who had never been to Jerusalem wouldn’t make much sense.

  2. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Jeff,

    I completely agree.

    That doesn’t mean Paul believed in the traditional view of hell. There were words available to him to speak of such a place — or he could have spoken of a place of eternal punishment without having a name. So, to me, the logic is that Paul was evidently unaware of a place called hell or having the characteristics of hell. However, all Jews were aware of the OT teaching that at the end of the age, God’s enemies would be destroyed and made dead by God’s consuming fire.

    (1 Cor. 3:12-15 ESV) 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

    Paul taught that the end would come with “fire” with the result being that the unredeemed will be “burned up.”

  3. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    I guess I need some help trying to locate where you can make this statement about the “unredeemed” from the scripture quote.
    Are you trying to state that if anyone’s work is burned up, then the only way that individual can be saved is after that individual is burned up?
    Paul in the first verse calls those he is writing to “Brothers” and the very next verse following your quote says that all he is writing to are redeemed.
    (1Co 3:16 ESV) Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
    I can’t find an unredeemed individual in the whole chapter.

  4. Mark says:

    I heard an Anglican priest recently preach on the topic of gehenna (mistranslated hell) and its location southwest of Jerusalem being the garbage dump complete with perpetual fire and poisonous snakes, too. That portion of Gospel was the lectionary reading for the day. He used it to say that no one familiar with the area would want to go down there for even a short time. The focus was to get rid of things in your life that could get you sent there for even a few minutes.

  5. Richard constant says:

    Just kind of funny to me.
    This is about where you spend your time money and work.
    Do you spend your time in front of the TV worrying about things that you have no control over like you Baghdad.
    you’re going to suffer loss.
    Do you help other people.
    Do you help people less fortunate than you.
    Do you try to help the kids in your neighborhood friends that are your kids friends.
    do you try to be relevant to your kids to your wife, where is your world at 9 o’clock pm in the TV watching a movie watching football.
    there so many ways to screw up in this society its unreal as far as God is concerned.
    But then maybe we’re just all retarded.
    put importance where importance is due.
    the story of the talents, responsibilities according to ability, the more you’re responsible to your ability the more responsibility it entails, new line. Paul always tells us how to function, and why to function that way.
    His job was to reveal the mystery.
    Through the Spirit that the Christ gave him.
    his life was an exhibition, of that ability.
    the unrelenting aspect.
    Paul is to give us is to give us the words of the Spirit of God, and who knows God better than the spirit.
    The Spirit is showing us how to live through through Paul.
    the denial Of that walk, according to each and every one’s ability to do it.
    Will be judged, how simple could it get, what’s the alternative, you either walk the life of commitment or you walk the life of convenience.
    It’s very simple.
    got a guilty conscience repent.
    we all might be a little bit surprised we do a little something different everyday in reciprocating the love that God has given us in the restoration through his son.
    I don’t need to be taught about condemnation I get that.
    What I need is a relevant way to walk in this life.
    I gotta turn off that stinking TV.
    if I want to live in God’s reality in the restoration then I want to understand the language of love.
    and that’s exactly what Paul was expressing.

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