The Spirit World: Chapter Ten (Gehenna)

This entry is part 12 of 23 in the series The Spirit World

Gehenna

(This is a continuation of The Spirit World book series. This post assumes the prerequisite reading of earlier posts in the series.)

Gehenna is a Greek term, yet it comes to the Greek from the combination of two Hebrew terms, Gei and HinnomGei Hinnom literally means “the Valley of Hinnom.”

The Valley of Hinnom was an area outside the walls of New Testament Jerusalem, at the southwestern corner of the city.  The pertinence of Gehenna in Jesus’ day was that it was Jerusalem’s trash dump.  All manners of refuse were thrown there, from typical household waste to industrial discards.  Dead bodies also were thrown here, both of animals and humans.  Criminals with no proper burial choices were discarded there, as were others who were unable to afford nicer burials.

A fire burned in Gehenna continually, partly because it was nursed along as a helpful disposal tool, and partly because of methane which is generated from decomposing waste.  In short, Gehenna was a place of enduring destruction for the refuse of Jerusalem.

Gehenna also had a well-known and unsavory history.  In the Old Testament, the Valley of Hinnom was a place of human sacrifice to Idols.  In such sacrifices, human beings were frequently burned as sacrifices to pagan gods.

2 Kings 23:10 (NIV)
10 He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice his son or daughter in the fire to Molech.

Here, in 2 Kings, Josiah is purifying the city in his renewal of the covenant.  Part of that restoration was that “he desecrated Topheth,” a particular location within the Valley of Hinnom where sacrifices were offered to Molech.  The name, Topheth, comes from the Hebrew term toph, which means “drum,” because the cries of children who were to be burned alive were drowned out by the sounds of drums during that horrific practice.   Contrarily, 2 Chronicles demonstrates the evil King Ahaz participating in such practices.

2 Chronicles 28:1-3 (NIV)
1 Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord. 2 He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals. 3 He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.

Burning his own children in the fire, Ahaz participates in the demonic worship of Baal in the Valley of Hinnom.  Several other texts reference similar practices, such as 2 Chronicles 33:6, Isaiah 30:33 and Jeremiah 7:31-32.  Thus, the Valley of Hinnom, while known in its New Testament setting as a place of burning, also holds an eerie demonic history which remembers unspeakable acts of evil from ancient Old Testament history.

When Jesus began to use the term “Gei Hinnom” (Gehenna) to refer to the eternal state of man, his message was deduced from the combined use and history of Gehenna.  It is a place of the refuse of Jerusalem.  It is a place of continual burning, including people; both of the historic live sacrifices and of the modern dead which were disposed of in that location.  Furthermore, it was a place reminiscent of idolatry and human suffering from the satanic practices of old.

Both the NIV and the KJV translate the Greek term Gehenna as “Hell.”  This is interesting, due to the fact that the KJV also translates “Hades” as “Hell” frequently.  This yields an inconsistency in that translation – and others – in the use of the term “Hell,” since clearly Gehenna and Hades are described inconsistently with one another in scripture.  However this translational use of Hell for Gehenna rightly underlines Jesus’ intended meaning when he referred to the eternal place of burning refuse, or the lake of fire, by using the metaphorical designation of “Gehenna.”

Deductions

Gehenna  appears twelve times in the Greek New Testament.  Deductions concerning the New Testament usage of the term clearly indicate that Gehenna is synonymous with the lake of fire, or with the modern definition of Hell. 

The first deduction is that Gehenna is a place of fire.  Jesus notes this on several occasions.

Matthew 5:22 (NIV)
22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. 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 (Gehenna).

Matthew 18:9 (NIV)
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 (Gehenna).

Mark 9:43-48 (NIV)
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 (Gehenna), where the fire never goes out. 44 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 (Gehenna). 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 (Gehenna), 48 where “‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ Everyone will be salted with fire.

Secondly, it can clearly be demonstrated that Gehenna is associated with only the unrighteous.  Matthew 5:29 notes,

Matthew 5:29-30 (NIV)
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 (Gehenna).

Matthew 18:9 and Mark 9:43-48 offer the same basic premise.  Jesus also condemns the Pharisees with this question:

Matthew 23:33 (NIV)
33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell (Gehenna)?

And James notes the particular evil of Gehenna as he notes,

James 3:6 (NIV)
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 (Gehenna).

In every usage, Gehenna is demonstrated to be an abode concerned with the wicked rather than the righteous. 

Thirdly, it can be deduced that Gehenna is an eternal abode rather than a temporary one.

Mark 9:43-48 (NIV)
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. 44 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. 46 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.’ Everyone will be salted with fire.

Particularly stated in this text are the phrases, “the fire never goes out” and “their worm does not die.”  Indeed, being described in nature identically to the lake of fire, Gehenna is an eternal place, which demands that it does not refer to Hades, but specifically to Hell, or the lake of fire.

Additionally, this text demonstrates a forth conclusion; that Gehenna is a place of the destruction of both the body and the spirit.  Unlike Hades, which is a place for the spirit only, Gehenna is noted to be a place which one can enter “with two feet” or “with two eyes,” clearly indicators of the joining of the body and soul in that location.  Likewise, Jesus notes in Matthew,

Matthew 10:28 (NIV)
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.

In conclusion, it is clear that Gehenna is not the same as Abaddon, the unrighteous side of Hades/Sheol.  Abaddon is temporary while Gehenna is permanent and eternal.  Abaddon is for the destruction of the spirit only, while Gehenna is the destruction of body and spirit.

Being permanent, Gehenna must refer to the final destination of the bodies and spirits of the wicked.  It is synonymous with the lake of fire and is what modern English would most likely identify with the term “Hell.”  It is the last and final containment of the bodies and souls of the wicked of history.

image The Spirit World series will continue weekly until the entire book is published online. If, however, you enjoy this series and do not wish to wait, you can purchase the paperback version of The Spirit World here.



Series Navigation<< The Spirit World: Chapter Nine (Lake of Fire)The Spirit World: Chapter Eleven (The Abyss) >>

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