Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Jesus gehenna hell, rubbish dump, eternal conscious torment, damned, real

I’m not exactly sure where the church got its ideas of hell from, especially as the scriptural support for our traditional notion of hell—as a place or state of eternal conscious torment—is slim. I haven’t got this all worked out, but here are some of my observations of what Paul, James, and Jesus say, and don’t say, about hell.

Paul on Hell

Paul never mentions hell in any of his letters. Not once. For Paul, the two paths for humanity do not culminate with heaven or hell, but with life or death. Paul writes about this several times in his letters, but it is succinctly expressed in Romans 6:23:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (cf. Rom. 1:32 CSB).

Paul was not concerned about hell, and he was not waiting for heaven. Paul was waiting for the Day of Christ when Jesus would come from heaven and transform our bodies and renew the earth and creation. In Philippians 3:18-21, he writes about the two different destinies of humanity:

For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction (to telos apōleia) . . . . [But] our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. Philippians 3:18-19a, 20-21 (NASB, italics added).

We have a heavenly citizenship and we are divine image-bearers (Gen. 1:26-28), but our “colony”, or domain, is earth. The first human was made from the earth and for the earth (Gen. 2:7; cf. Gen. 3:19; 5:2).[1] This fundamental truth continues. Note also that God warned the first human that the penalty for eating the forbidden fruit was death and not “hell” or some kind of eternal torment (Gen. 2:17; cf. Gen. 3:3, 22b).

James on Hell

Like Paul, James also writes about the two options of life and death, rather than heaven and hell. He writes that when sin is fully grown it gives birth to (apokuō) death, but that God gives birth to (apokuō) us so that we can be a kind of firstfruits of his living created beings (James 1:15, 18 NIV) James 1:18 echoes the theme of restored creation found in Romans 8:19ff.

James does mention “hell” in his letter, however; just once. He uses the imagery of a fiery and wicked hell (or, more specifically, Gehenna) in James 3:6:

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell (i.e. Gehenna).

This verse says nothing about judgement or eternal torment. Rather, Gehenna, which has been traditionally translated as “hell,” is used as a metaphor by James, as it is elsewhere in scripture. But Gehenna is also a real place.[2]

Gehenna: The Valley of Hinnom, or Tophet

Gehenna is otherwise known as the Valley of Hinnom[3] and, like Sodom and Gomorrah, it is known for its wickedness. During the reigns of Ahaz and Manasseh, the valley of Hinnom was where the Israelites committed the unspeakable act of sacrificing their children to the Ammonite deity Molech (2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 7:31; 32:35). Jeremiah prophesied about God’s judgement on the apostate Israelites and said the valley would be called the “Valley of Slaughter” (Jer. 7:32; 19:5-7).[4]

Isaiah also mentions this valley of slaughter but gives it a different name.

Another name for this valley was “Tophet,” a term used by Isaiah when he described the forthcoming destruction of the Assyrians by fire in the valley near Jerusalem, where the Lord would have a fiery furnace ready to devour the Assyrian princes and king (Isa. 30:31-33; 31:9). The same valley is probably in view in Isaiah 66:24, which speaks of a climactic slaughter of the wicked in the future . . .”[5]

Interestingly, James mentions a “day of slaughter” in his letter (Jas 5:5 NLT). “Slaughter” sounds fairly final to me, as do other words used by the biblical authors that refer to the judgement of unrepentant sinners (i.e. the unredeemed).[6] The repeated message of the Bible is that death is the penalty for sin. Thankfully, Jesus paid the penalty for our sin with his death.

Jesus’ References to Gehenna

Outside of the Gospels, James is the only New Testament author to mention Gehenna. Jesus, on the other hand, mentions Gehenna several times.[7] Did he use it for rhetorical effect? Or did he indicate that sinners actually go to a place called hell? Here are all the verses where Jesus mentions Gehenna (“hell”) so that you can see for yourself how he used the term.

Matthew 5:22: But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of Gehenna (hell).

Matthew 5:29: If your right eye causes you to stumble, 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 Gehenna (hell).

Matthew 5:30: And if your right hand causes you to stumble, 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 Gehenna (hell).

Matthew 10:28: 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 Gehenna (hell).

Matthew 18:9: And if your eye causes you to stumble, 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 Gehenna (hell).

Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of Gehenna (hell) as you are.

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

Mark 9:43: If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna (hell), where the fire never goes out.

Mark 9:45: And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into Gehenna (hell).

Mark 9:47: And if your eye causes you to stumble, 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 Gehenna (hell),

Luke 12:5: But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into Gehenna (hell). Yes, I tell you, fear him.

It seems to me that Jesus is using the rhetorical device of hyperbole (exaggeration) in most, if not all, of these statements. Furthermore, just as the scribes and Pharisees were not in reality snakes, and just as Jesus was not teaching that people should actually cut off or remove body parts that were causing them to stumble, it is probable that Jesus uses Gehenna metaphorically. Note also that there is no sense of eternal torment conveyed in any of these statements.

The word “Gehenna,” which is typically translated into English as “hell,” appears to be used as a metaphor of destruction in the New Testament, without any connotation of eternal torment for the unredeemed. And this metaphor is only used when addressing a Jewish audience. Gentiles would not have readily understood it. There are other New Testament verses that do not mention hell at all but speak of fiery judgement and punishment. I look at these verses in my next post.

Footnotes

[1] The Hebrew word adam (“human”) is derived from the Hebrew word adamah (“earth” or “dust”).

[2] A commonly taught idea is that Gehenna was a smouldering rubbish dump in Jesus’ day. But there is simply no credible basis for this idea.

The traditional explanation that a burning rubbish heap in the Valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem gave rise to the idea of a fiery Gehenna of judgment is attributed to Rabbi David Kimhi’s commentary on Psalm 27:13 (ca. A.D. 1200). He maintained that in this loathsome valley fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and cadavers thrown into it. However, Strack and Billerbeck state that there is neither archeological nor literary evidence in support of this claim, in either the earlier intertestamental or the later rabbinic sources (Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud and Midrasch, 5 vols. [Munich: Beck, 1922-56], 4:2:1030). Also a more recent author holds a similar view (Lloyd R. Bailey, “Gehenna: The Topography of Hell,” Biblical Archaeologist 49 [1986]: 189.
Hans Scharen, “Gehenna in the Synoptics”, Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (Jan-Mar 1998), 324-337, 328 (fn17). (View online here.)

Quotations from different scholars who dismiss or have doubts about the rubbish dump theory can be read here. See also David A. Croteau’s book, Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2015), 49-53.

[3] The word in the New Testament is γέεννα (“Gehenna”) which is derived from the Hebrew word gê’ hinnom, meaning the “valley of Hinnom”.

[4] Some take Jeremiah’s prophecy to be an end-time prophecy, and they see Gehenna as the place of God’s end-time battle with evil. Revelation 19 mentions an end-time battle. At the conclusion of this battle, the Beast and the False Prophet are thrown alive into the lake of fire (which is typically equated with hell) but all the other enemies are killed—they die (Rev. 19:20-21 cf. Rev. 20:10). In Revelation 20:11-15 we read that all humanity is raised from death and judged. After the judgement, the unredeemed, along with Death itself and Hades, are thrown into the lake of fire. The texts states, “the lake of fire is the second death” (Rev. 20:14-15). There is no mention here of eternal torment, but death—the second and final death (Rev. 21:8).

[5] Scharen, “Gehenna in the Synoptics,” 328 (fn 18)

[6] E. Earle Ellis has noted that nouns for the judgement of the unrighteous connote obliteration. They include annihilation (apōleia): Matt. 7:13; John 17:12; Acts 8:20; Rom. 9:22ff; Phil. 1:28; 3:19; 2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim 6:9; Heb. 10:39; 2 Pet. 2:1; destruction (olethros): 1 Thess. 5:3; 2 Thess. 1:9; 1 Tim. 6:9; death (thanatos): Rom 1:21; 6:21ff; 7:5; 8:6; 1 Cor. 15:21f; 15:56; 2 Cor. 2:16; 7:10; Jas 1:15; 5:20; 1 John 5:16; Rev. 2:11; 20:6; 20:14; 1 Pet. 4:17; end (telos): Rom. 6:21f; 2 Cor. 11:15; Phil. 3:19; 1 Pet. 4:17; and disintegration or corruption (phthora): Gal. 6:8; 2 Pet. 1:4; 2:12.
“The most important and frequent terms for the punishment of sin are death and destruction or annihilation and their corresponding verbs.” E. Earle Ellis, Christ and the Future in New Testament History (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 193 & 195.
Nick Quient briefly discusses some of these words here.

[7] The word Hades occurs 10 times in the New Testament and refers to the grave, the place of the dead. Hades is a Greek word equivalent to the Hebrew “Sheol,” but it is distinct from Gehenna. Jesus mentions Hades four times in the Gospels (Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23). It is also mentioned four times in Revelation where it is always paired with the word “Death”; Hades and Death are depicted as twin forces or twin entities (Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14). According to Revelation 20:14, they will be destroyed in the Lake of Fire, the “second death.” Hades also occurs in Acts 2:27 and 2:31.

Postscript
Heaven and Hell in the Letter to the Hebrews and in John’s Writings

I read the New Testament letter to the Hebrews the other weekend. And was struck that, just as with Paul’s and James’s letters, there is nothing like “hell” or eternal torment mentioned. Rather, there is death for disobedient unbelievers and a fire that consumes (Heb. 10:26-31; cf. 12:29). Conversely, there is no statement that implies that when we die we go to heaven. What is offered to the redeemed instead is rest and life (e.g., Heb. 4:1-11; 10:19-20). “Hell” is also absent in John’s Gospel and John’s three letters. John 3:16 tells us our future: our two options are (1) perish or (2) have eternal life.

Image Credit

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Martin, 1852 (Wikimedia) The twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned over 40 times in the Bible. The cities are often given as an example or illustration of God’s judgement.

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Further Reading

For more on the subject of hell, I recommend the website Rethinking Hell.

Related Articles

Eternal Torment, Eternal Fire, Eternal Death
The Kingdom of Heaven in the Here and Now and Future
Hyperbole and Divorce in The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:31-32)

71 thoughts on “Paul, James, and Jesus on Hell (Gehenna)

  1. Bravo!

    Are you going to discuss sheol/hades and tartatus? Also will you discuss the three tier universe? Consider these are suggestions for further discussion.

    1. Hi Don,

      Apart from endnote 7, I don’t plan on mentioning hades/sheol or tartarus for now.

      My next post is on fire and judgement.

      1. Terrific work, Marg! Thank you! If I keep coming back I’ll become a supporter.

        1. Thanks, Paul.

  2. I personally enjoy your blog posts tremendously.
    I have found that when they refuse to accept the truth on a particular subject it is due to the fact that they do not want to believe the truth for whatever reason. Mostly due to fear in knowing that they, or perhaps their loved ones are headed to hell, in this case.

    1. Several church doctrines have been influenced by culture and tradition more than scripture.

      The hermeneutic that is used to limit and subordinate women is similar to the hermeneutic that is used to support eternal conscious torment for the unredeemed.

      1. Oh I totally misread and or understood this. You are saying there is no hell? no place of eternal damnation? Well LOL I do not agree at all not in the least no LOL Why are we to seek salvation then? what happens to those who do not seek salvation?

        You think they just die? Oh Yikes well I am sorry no I do not agree at all as there is plenty that Jesus said more than he spoke of heaven He spoke of hell.

        Jesus being the word who put on flesh knows better than anyone, what He is talking about! Matthew 25 the whole last part of it speaks of this. Revelation 14 speaks of eternal torment.

        1. I say there is a place called Gehenna (or the Valley of Hinnom, or the Valley of Topheth) and that Gehenna has been translated as “hell” in English Bibles.

          I’ve included every New Testament verse that mentions “hell” (i.e. Gehenna) in this post, but none of these verses mention eternal torment.

          On the other hand, the Bible does mentiondamnation (i.e. judgement, condemnation, and death).

          My next post is about the verses you mention, and others like them.

      2. “The hermeneutic that is used to limit and subordinate women is similar to the hermeneutic that is used to support eternal conscious torment for the unredeemed.” That’s an excellent point! Also one that bears upon people’s views of End Times.

  3. I don’t know where our idea of hell has come from either, but I think it has served the institution of ‘church’ well throughout the ages, keeping people loyal out of fear. Thank you for posting this, I hope more people are open to looking into it and questioning their traditionally held views. I also haven’t a definite conclusion on this but it is worth exploring. I keep wondering “What is our true heart towards Jesus if the motivation to seek salvation is only to avoid our ideas/images of hell? Bless you.

    -Leanne

    1. Hi Leanne,

      I’m dismayed by people who are motivated in their evangelism by a concept of hell as a place of eternal torment for sinners. My motivation for evangelism, and all ministry, is the wonder, power, and joy of our new life in Jesus Christ. But I guess we are all different.

      1. Preaching about a place called hell (that doesn’t really exist and only in many English translations) is tanamount to terrorism. Terriorism from the pulpit. Apparently most of the hell fire and brimstone preachers have never read Rom. 5:18 or I Cor 15:22 or have never read I Cor. 15:26. If Jesus Christ defeats death then what can it mean but that death will have been defeated and if it will be defeated then death will be no more including those that have already died. That is called resurrection and one day all will be resurrected. People’s paridym must change from the Jonathan Edward’s view of God who hate and despises everyone to a God that had a plan from before the disruption of the world to save all and He is working out His plan accordingly.

        1. Hi Mark,

          I read the apocryphal Acts of Thomas a few years back. It includes a ‘tour of hell.’ Someone’s imagination had been let loose and various tortures for various sins were graphically described. The scenes are horrifying! What is even more horrifying is that people reading this work may well have believed what they were reading. “Hell” is terrorism.

          The New Testament describes God as love. According to Jesus, his followers are primarily known by their love. Love, not fear, is what should draw us to God.

  4. Have always been an annihilationist.

  5. Dear Marg,

    Thank you, I found your piece courageous and refreshing. I appreciate the intellectual honesty of your blog – the interest in what the Bible actually say about something as opposed to our assumptions and beliefs (your article about Bathsheba a while back a case in point). Looking forward to the next installment.

    Regards
    Tim

    1. Thanks so much, Tim.

  6. I do not seek the Lord to escape hell so much as to be transformed into the image of God, being brought back to before the fall through Jesus. Why does anyone need a savior though in your mind if there is no eternal damnation?

    You said yourself that Paul in 2 thess 2:12 speaks of damnation and indeed He does, so what in your mind is damnation? Why does God have to remove the sorrow from us after the second resurrection?

    On this one I cannot agree wow i cannot believe how badly i misread this sorry

    1. Hi Tammy,

      I think you may be reading more into this post than is stated. I don’t use the word “damnation” in this post, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in it.

      The Greek word the King James translates as “damnation” (usually, but not always, krima) is better understood and translated as “judgement” or “condemnation”. I most certainly 100% agree that the New Testament speaks about judgement and condemnation for unrepentant sinners!

      Here is every verse where the KJV uses the word “damnation”: https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=damnation&qs_version=KJV

      Here are all these verses with the Greek and a literal English translation.

      Matthew 23:14 KJV: ληψεσθε περισσοτερον κριμα (Matt. 23:13 TR1550)
      “you will receive a greater judgement”

      Matthew 23:23: πῶς φύγητε ἀπὸ τῆς κρίσεως τῆς γεέννης
      “how will you escape from the judgement of Gehenna?”

      Mark 3:29: ἔνοχός ἐστιν αἰωνίου ἁμαρτήματος (or κρισεως TR1550)
      “is guilty of eternal sin (or judgement)”

      Mark 12:40: οὗτοι λήμψονται περισσότερον κρίμα.
      “These ones will receive a greater judgement.”

      Luke 20:47: οὗτοι λήμψονται περισσότερον κρίμα.
      “These ones will receive a greater judgement.”

      John 5:29: ἀνάστασιν κρίσεως.
      “resurrection of judgement.”

      Romans 3:8: τὸ κρίμα ἔνδικόν ἐστιν
      “the judgement is just”

      Romans 13:2: κρίμα λήμψονται
      “they will receive judgement”

      1 Corinthians 11:29: ὁ γὰρ ἐσθίων καὶ πίνων κρίμα ἑαυτῷ ἐσθίει καὶ πίνει μὴ διακρίνων τὸ σῶμα.
      For the one eating and drinking, eats and drinks judgment to himself not judging (or discerning) the body rightly.

      1 Timothy 5:12: ἔχουσαι κρίμα ὅτι τὴν πρώτην πίστιν ἠθέτησαν
      “having judgement because they set aside (or violated) their first faith (or pledge of faith)”

      2 Peter 2:3: οἷς τὸ κρίμα ἔκπαλαι οὐκ ἀργεῖ, καὶ ἡ ἀπώλεια αὐτῶν οὐ νυστάζει.
      “their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

    2. Knowing the Lord Jesus, having our sins forgiven, being in a right relation with him, and living the new life he gives, are all tremendous incentives to seek the Saviour and his salvation.

      Already we have access to some of his resurrection power. Already we are being transformed more and more into conformity with him. Being a follower of Jesus is exciting. These are reasons enough for me to follow Jesus and encourage others to follow him also. Not to mention our future life with him (1 Cor. 15:19).

      On the other hand, the thought of eternal damnation or condemnation is horrific.

      I’m not sure what you have misread about today’s post, but perhaps the next post will clear up the misunderstanding. This post is only about the verses that specifically mention Gehenna (“hell”).

    3. Good answer – perfect love casts out fear.
      As Bonhoeffer said, “It is only because He became like us that we can become like Him.”
      ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

  7. Hi Marg! My two cents: I think most of what the church believes comes from Dante’s Inferno. He was a Catholic in 1200 and was banished from his beloved Florence by the Pope. His walk through Hell condemns most political figures of the time. Italy was fractured into city-states and his use of language united the country. He was the Italian Shakespeare and was most likely the only literature Italians knew besides the Bible. And Florence was the seat of the Renaissance

    1. I think you may be right. I know almost nothing about Dante’s Inferno.

      I do know that some of the Jewish intertestamental writings, influenced by Greek ideas, begin to speak about torment rather than death. But, as I say, scriptural support for our traditional notion of hell is slim.

    2. The Christian beliefs about the afterlife came more from Greco-Roman mythology (Hades) and poetry (Virgil) than the Bible. Similarly, the medieval ideas about God the Father and Christ bear more resemblance to Zeus throwing lightning bolts than to the Bible’s depictions of God.

      I love M. Scott Peck’s contention in “People of the Lie” that people make their own hells (and usually refuse to leave them).

      1. Thanks for this, Carrie!

  8. I am always concerned when people offer alternatives to the concept of eternal damnation, because so many of the cults deny the presence of hell and a nasty after life. However, I am aware that there are a lot of inconsistencies between what the Bible says and what most Christians think.

    I always figured that if nothing else, “hell” is eternal separation from God. I never picture it so much as a big room of burning fire, but more like a small room or cave with no way out. The Bible talks about the Lord being light, which is an analogy, but I also see being alone in the dark. No love, just an eternity of knowing that you wanted nothing to do with God while alive, and now you have eternity to know that God will have nothing to do.

    OK, so I have less Biblical support of that than we do of a burning fire with demons around it! But I do not believe that God made Hell for humans, but for Satan and his fallen angels.

    Personally, I find the idea of eternal separation from God to be more terrifying than a burning pit.

    Just my silly notion this morning.

    1. Hi Cassandra,

      The Bible speaks numerous times about damnation (i.e. judgement and condemnation) but the message of the Bible overwhelmingly is that the outcome of judgement against unrepentant sinners is death and destruction.

      It is very hard, I think, to make a sound biblical case that sinners will experience eternal conscious torment whether in fire or darkness. (More on this in my next post.)

      A case can be made, however, that the lake of fire or “hell-fire” is for demons, not people.

      Anyway, it may reassure you to know that people such as John Stott, I. Howard Marshall, David Instone-Brewer, John Stackhouse, Richard Bauckham, and Michael Green held/hold to the view of conditional immortality. This view is that only redeemed children of God live forever, whereas the unredeemed are destroyed. Destruction is still a horrific punishment. 🙁

    2. Cassandra, could 2 Thessalonians 1:9 be what you have in mind? If so, I have been thinking some about that too. I see that english bible translations commonly translate «destruction» here, but to me, that doesn’t really seem to fit the sentence. «Separation» would actually be better. So this could perhaps support your view. At least, it is a thing to consider when pondering eternity.

      1. Another way of reading 2 Thess 1:9 is: “eternal destruction that (comes) from the presence of the Lord.” There are echoes in this verse from Isaiah 2, especially Isaiah 2:10, 19, 21.

  9. Marg, thank you for the many fine things you are writing. I may not have said it before, maybe I have sounded somewhat critical at times in earlier comments, but I want to say now that I value your ministry highly.

    It is natural, I think, as one matures, to come to question things one has earlier taken for granted. Sometimes one has one’s beliefs confirmed in this process, but sometimes also they are changed. With regard to the Bible, it seems that there vey easily develops ideas about what it says that aren’t actually well founded. I think we see this in church history as well. Again and again christianity as a movement has moved away from biblical teaching, and it has been necessary for someone to stand up and bring them back. I see no reason why our time should be exempt from that.

    I now wish that you would also question the doctrine of penal substitution. After all, Paul doesn’t say that the penalty of sin is death, he says that the wages of sin is death. Sin is, I think, not seen in the Bible solely as a transgression of law that makes one guilty of a punishment in juridical terms. It is very much seen as a kind of deadly disease, a disease whose power Jesus came to overcome. Jesus overcomes the power of sin and death and brings us new life, I think it is this that salvation is about.

    I think it is important also, as you say, that Paul was not waiting for heaven. Heaven is not our ultimate goal; eternal life will not happen there, but rather on a new earth where we shall live in new bodies. «I believe in the resurrection of the body».

    Then, I don’t think we can know very much about eternal things. You have said earlier that you don’t think we can understand much of the Trinity, and I don’t think we can understand much of eternity either. If one has it all sorted, then I think one «knows» too much. We may speculate about various ideas, but in the end, eternity is very much a mystery, something that God will reveal some day, but hasn’t yet.

    I look forward to your next post.

    1. Hi Knut AK,

      Thanks for your kind words. Perhaps I will get around to looking in depth at penal substitution one day.

      I also vehemently believe in the resurrection of the body.

      I try to imagine our future life, but there is no real concrete information about it. As you say, it is a mystery.

      1. When all is said and done there are more parts of the Bible supporting the fiery destruction of gospel rejectors than there are of those implying “eternal torture”.

  10. Hi Marg, Great article and very timely. Firstly it was people like Plato who mooted the idea of an immortal soul, not the Bible. Immortality is a gift for the believer N.B. Rom 2:7. Secondly you would do well to acquire Edward Fudges book or video,’Hell and Mr Fudge’. He has done a masterful job on this subject. Incidentally the word ‘perish’in Jn 3:16 is the same word used in Matt 6;19, moth and rust’ destroy’. Lastly it is significant that man was banished from the garden of Eden lest he partake of the tree of life and live forever, Gen 3:22. God bless

    1. Warwick Badham…one problem with your post…you say that Plato was the first to talk about the immortal soul, and then remind us that Gen. 3:22 says :”lest he partake of the tree of life and live forever”…sounds like God was the first to mention immortal souls…no? Perhaps Plato got the idea from the Jewish Bible?

      1. Hi Judy, Plato was just one who said that man had an immortal soul destined for blessedness or a state of misery. This unfortunately infiltrated into the Bible interpretation of immortality for all, Cheers

        1. Oh, I see…so you think the idea of eternal suffering and a beautiful Heaven is more from Plato than the Bible?

          Yet can one not conclude this from the fact that Jesus did so much to reconcile us to God? or do you think He just did this because He wanted reconciliation, not so much to save us?…and if so why was He saving us? From what that is so drastic that He would go to the cross, an innocent man:the just for the unjust? Isn’t this rather drastic if there is no Hell from which to save us?

          1. Hi Judy, I’m sorry but I concur with most of Marg’s thoughts. Plato had limited understanding. Believe me eternal life is better than no hope at all. This is a complex subject.

          2. Warwick Badham…your response completely confuses me…I don’t know what you are getting at.

            As for Plato and all others, human, I leave my views on Heaven and Hell to those who have been there and still speak…and that leaves Jesus…who else? All else is speculation in my view.

          3. “Isn’t this rather drastic if there is no Hell from which to save us?” Judy, maybe that’s exactly the point. God’s love for us is, after all, extreme!

          4. Erica…it is more than extreme love if Jesus died for us for no reason…isn’t it? As a Saviour, from what did He then save us? It clearly calls Him a Saviour…saviours save from something…if not hell, punishment, etc., then what?

            There is ‘THE LAW’…I believe God gave us law. Law must entail judgment for law broken. If there is no judgment called hell then what is the judgment that is severe enough for Jesus to die in order to save us?

          5. Hi Judy
            Sorry, I can see I didn’t make myself clear. I most emphatically believe that there is a literal hell, the lake of fire reserved for the devil and his angels which the book of Revelation speaks of.
            However, I’m no longer sure that those who reject Christ are going to suffer there forever. Rather, as the Bible says (and why haven’t I seen this until now???), their souls will die there. Die. Perish. Not suffer eternally.
            It seems to me that this makes Christ’s sacrifice even more a demonstration of His love. See my comment below (posted on July 19, 2016 at 11:35 p.m.).

    2. Thanks Warwick.

      I really need to get some of these resources. Someone on Facebook has also recommended these resources, as do the people at Rethinking Hell.

      Yes, Adam and Eve no longer had access to the Tree of Life when they were banished from the garden, so that they could not eat from it and live forever (Gen. 3:22-23). But we regain access to the Tree of Life in the new earth (Rev. 22:14).

      In my next post I mention very briefly (with a few supporting scriptures) that only God is immortal, and that he bestows immortality on us mortal human followers of Jesus as a gift.

      Sounds like we’re pretty much on the same page with this.

  11. Thank you for this. I agree. I think most of our ideas of hell came from Dante and Roman Catholic tradition, not from the Bible.

    1. The church really did get a lot of things wrong. 🙁

  12. Hi Marg, great post.

    The idea of ‘eternal torment’ for unrepentant sinners is I think a slur on the character of God. It speaks more-so of a vengeful human solution based on measure for measure pain payment for each sin duly recorded, and gives room for the notion of purgatory to be able to endure thus making oneself holy without need of a Savior (revealing man’s innate pride once again). It says in Psalm 103:14 that ‘He knows our frame –that we are but dust’ -we being but an image of Him -not the essence. Scripture speaks of Him more-so discarding/destroying things of no worth as you would of items working contrary or failing their design.

    The fear of hell for many surpasses their fear/awe of God Himself. Isaiah 33:14 asks the question concerning sinners without God – ‘…Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can live with continual burning?’- The answer being of course – no one. However, Hebrews 12:29 and Deut 4:24 reveal that it is YeHoWaH Elohim Himself who is the ‘consuming fire’ sin having no place in His presence. 1 Timothy 6:16 declares YeHoWaH as ‘immortal’ – Him alone – and living in ‘unapproachable light’. The Old Testament upholding the clear understanding that mortal (sinful) man could not be in the presence of YeHoWaH Elohim and live.

    We know that God is LIFE, He not only holds everything together by the power of His word (Heb 1:3) but He in Himself is eternal life. We know death because of sin. Because sin can only produce death in us, it effectively separates us from Him who is life. 1 John 1:5 says ‘there is no darkness at all in Him’ –He is pure, holy. All the more to wonder that our creator /life-giver would take on mortal flesh and dwell among us, giving His life in place of ours to ensure life for us in his presence – as life is found only in Him. So we are redeemed, covered by the blood of the Lamb of God –His life given for ours, our clothing being His righteousness –a gift of complete grace on one deserving the opposite. All throughout the Old Testament is the plea given by YeHoWaH Elohim to a people able to hear – to ‘choose life not death’. Many people would willingly choose death – over life in His presence – He being the source of their life. God gives us this choice and He has given us power to choose, if not so, scripture repeatedly makes Him a liar.

    So hell has been magnified within the popular rendition of the Gospel and made a terror to persuade people to choose life whether they want it or not. But God sees beyond the outward action and looks for those whose hearts are completely His. Whose eyes are set upon Him, the WAY, TRUTH and LIFE – who walk in Him, in His likeness – as to His original design.

    1. “The fear of hell for many surpasses their fear/awe of God Himself.” That is such an interesting observation, Christine.

      It seems that too many Christians have a limited understanding of God and his relationship with us, and see being saved as simply getting a get-out-of-hell ticket.

      You’ve alluded to several scriptures which I quote in my next post. 😉

  13. Tammy your comments as well as everyone else’s here are valuable. It is good to debate and be challenged and to think about the issues we have just absorbed over the years. Just as with the passages in the Bible on women can’t we also explore the ones on hell? And if we can’t agree or be convinced, can’t we trust God is gracious and bigger than all of our thoughts and He will show us the truth? I hope you will stay signed in. If you feel so strongly that you are right, can’t you continue in patient debate with us? We are all of the same body. Blessings.

    1. Blessed are the peace-makers. <3

  14. Hi Tammy, God is just and holy and sees everyone’s hearts and is able to judge a person’s thoughts as well as his actions in this life (unlike us). The sentence measured out by Him concerning our sin (for eternity) will be exactly what each and everyone of us deserve who have refused his great mercy in Messiah. Each and everyone of us deserve death – period. Some have caused far more pain in this world to others and will face Him concerning their actions and receive the consequences of their sin within this death or dying I believe. Just as sin hardens our heart toward God and separates us from Him, I wonder whether the process of dying may take longer for them in extinguishing the soul. Scripture makes it very clear there is torment and pain and gnashing of teeth and that there is no escape – ever – of surviving this place. Those condemned will never out-live the ‘worm that does not die nor the fire that is not quenched’ –there being no relief for the wicked – they will be consumed. Both the worm and the fire will be effective in their job and the sinner’s soul will cease to be.
    We know in this life what fire does to our bodies –it kills the body (with excruciating pain) so the same picture is given for our souls –it is a final permanent death –for eternity – never coming back –never surviving it. ‘Eternal death’ as in forever dying is an oxymoron. You are either dead or you are alive. It is a completely vindictive God who knowing our innate weakness, to inflict ‘eternal (infinite) torment’ based on the finite space and time period of our mortal lives. What a waste of time and energy on His part!!
    Then there are the demons and devil thrown into this final environment to add to the mix –how long are they going to last in the process of their destruction? Might be a little longer than the average sinner – just a guess – I imagine them adding to the sinner’s torment.
    I will never know of what it means to perish as spoken of in John 3:16 because of Yeshua – HalleluYAH!

  15. Hell is real and it was spoken of more by Jesus than anything else. Well here’s the deal your god is apparently not the God of the bible. The God of the bible has spoken of this eternal torment many times over, and all know that He will do exactly as He said He will do.

    Idolatry is making a God of your own to suit yourself and your own needs, that is wrong according to God you either accept Him how He is or you die, not death as in forever dead non existent you are going to forever and ever and ever and ever and ever be tormented! Dead people do not feel torment, the torment goes on forever more.

    It is mind boggling how people just usurp the authority of God and His word which is Jesus Christ! Jesus is the word of God, who put on flesh!!

    I have to leave this thing because reading the crap you people pass off is unimaginable, and just plain crazy. Having no fear of the Lord and helping sinners to feel fine with themselves dying off, and atheists you have bought into their portion as well.

    They say if there was truly a God who is love, He would never throw anyone in hell.

    Well you will all see for yourself! And boy wont you marvel as you are thrown in yourself. Believing lies and promoting lies is called Heresy, heresy is a damnable offense.

    That is not judging nothing i said before or now is judging it is knowing the bible and knowing that it is the whole truth and nothing but the whole truth all of it every last word is the Lord Himself, and you deny the Lord and have an idol you look up to, who does not resemble the God of the bible

    1. I clearly state in the article that Hell/Gehenna is a real place.

      “Eternal torment” is plainly mentioned twice in the Bible: once for the devil, the beast and the false prophet (Rev. 20:10), and once for beast-worshippers (Rev. 14:9-11).

      My article is full of scripture. I take scripture to be the divinely inspired and authoritative. Your accusations against my attitude to scripture and against me personally have no basis in fact.

      Since a few of your comments breach the commenting guidelines I will be removing these shortly.

    2. Hi Tammy

      I find it ironic that many of the accusations you make about Marg and her (and others’) motives are EXACTLY the same as the accusations egalitarians regularly hear from complementarians… yet you yourself are an egalitarian. Surely you can see the comparison: even though other sincere Christians would disagree with your understanding of Scriptures about women, that doesn’t make you wrong or your motives suspect. Likewise, even though you disagree with Marg’s understanding of Scriptures about hell, that doesn’t make her wrong or her motives suspect.

      I’ve been researching women in the body of Christ for half my life (literally: it started when I was 22, and I’m now 44), and I’ve heard plenty of accusations along the lines of: “You’re twisting Scripture to justify your rebellion against God’s order,” or, “Your god is not the God of the Bible,” or, “The Bible is clear that the man the spiritual leader of the family, so you’re clearly not a submitted wife,” bla, bla, bla. It’s all nonsense, of course; just ad hominem arguments that don’t engage with the actual issue. Debate and argument is fine and good (Proverbs 25:2b); accusing people, especially fellow-believers, is not.

    3. I’m not sure what it is in us that causes us to react like this against something we disagree on. I see it mainly in the Women in Ministry debate, End Time discussions, including the place of Israel, and of course, this subject. I think that it’s hard to stay calm when one feels that one’s way of reading the Bible – and the way one’s group reads the Bible – is under attack. It calls into question the way we make sense of the universe and provokes a knee-jerk and passionate response – dare I call it ‘panic’. I believe it’s called cognitive dissonance. It can be very unpleasant. I think we need to be patient when we experience it ourselves and when we are with those experiencing it. Marg, you are an example to us all in this respect!

      1. Geoff H…I think some of us are ‘instructed’ to this response. This teaches us to be very aggressive when talking to others…and very ungracious. I believe that this brand of the faith has its good points, BUT here are the bad ones:

        Subjective: much of their teaching is subjective, despite the claims to be Biblical. They say they preach Christ and compare scripture with scripture…but they don’t do it. They are in a rut: cannot think outside the box by really searching the scriptures to see if what they teach is ACTUALLY in the Bible. They are comfortable being mean: They have no trouble insulting other pastors and denominations, never considering their questionable attitude as Christians. It becomes an “us versus them” scenario. They are full of Condemnation: Sometimes their accusations also apply to themselves, yet they cannot see this.
        They rely more on Tradition than they realize: Hence Biblical womanhood, doesn’t in any way ‘match’ the actual womanhood portrayed in the Bible.

        Context: This group decided during the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy that they would stick to the Bible and avoid higher learning, like the plague…the result is that they refuse to look at context and have adopted a way of reading the Bible that takes each verse as Gospel, even by itself…not considering that it was written 2000 years ago in a specific historical and cultural context.

        Those who follow them become like them until the Lord opens their eyes. Quoting chapter and verse is not instruction alone. In the end we need to seek the heart of God and to show it.

      2. Thanks for the compliment, Geoff.

        I agree, some Christians have a knee-jerk reaction (either defensive, aggressive,or both) before even considering a different viewpoint and whether it has a valid biblical basis.

      3. This article has, i m sure opened many eyes to see the inconsistencies we grew up with of the theological content…
        On a different yet related note, the end time, the judgment, the second coming and Gehenna are in the past and not in the future…it’s Scripturally and chronologically impossible to make them future….there is no gap theory in Daniel’s 70 weeks fulfilment and the New Covenant fully realized in the book of Revelation chapter 21….its sad that many need fear and judgment to repent yet the New Covenant is all about transformation of our minds through the selfless love of God.

    4. The one overriding Characteristic of true believers is Our love for one another. Regardless of disagreement over Bible interpretation. Satan is an accuser of the brethren, we must be careful not to let him use US as his instrument. I am now 68 years old and have studied the Scripture for 50 of those years. I have found that what I believed about MANY doctrines when I was young, I have now come to a more clear understanding. This present topic being one of them.
      Telling someone You will see for yourself…does feel like judgement to me. We all see through a glass darkly, and we break (I believe) the heart of our heavenly Father when His children cannot discuss His word in Love..with believers who disagree with them.
      Thanks Marg for your post. We appreciate you.

  16. Marg, thanks for this post. It seems to me that we Christians often do verbal gymnastics with certain words to make them fit our paradigm, thus nullifying the Word of God for the sake of our traditions. For example, when the Scripture says that God can destroy both the body and the soul in hell, we make the word “destroy” carry two different and opposite meanings: “destroy the body” means that the body ceases to exist, but “destroy the soul” means that the soul NEVER ceases to exist.

    I’m quite prepared to entertain the notion that, just as we got the concept of heaven as “an eternal paradise where we spend our time in blissful leisure” from pagan myths, so we very possibly got the concept of hell as “an eternal fiery torment” from those same myths. For my part, I’m going to be doing a Bible study on every single verse that mentions hell, because it looks to me that our traditions have made a God in our image: in this case, vengeful, and with a desire to get His pound of flesh…. but the God of the Bible is merciful even when wrathful (Habakkuk 3:2). I want to know the God of the Bible, even if that means I have to kill a few sacred cows.

    I mulled over the following philosophical question this morning: “But if it’s true that there’s no eternal conscious torment to save us from, why would Jesus bother dying on the cross?” It occurred to me that this question can be looked at from a different angle. If the judgment for sin is ‘only’ death and destruction, not eternal conscious torment, then God’s incredible love for us is shown to be that much greater: how marvellous is Jesus’ love for us, that, when He could have said, “Ah, well, not to worry, because my enemies will soon be no more anyway,” He said, ‘I don’t want my enemies to be destroyed; I want them to become my brothers, so I will pay for their sins.” As I said, this is purely a philosophical question, and I know that the answer to it is in Scripture, but I’ve often found that such questions are God’s way of pointing me towards a better understanding of His word.

    1. Thanks for all your comments, Erica.

      I especially appreciate your comments about the extent of God’s and Jesus’ love. Beautiful!

  17. Hi, I’m curious about the story in Luke 16 about the rich man and Lazarus? It portrays a conscious person post physical death in an unpleasant place of torment. Perhaps you addressed this in the other comments, which I did not entirely read.

    Thanks

    1. Hi Karen,

      Someone else asked me a similar question. Here’s some of my response to her.

      “I briefly refer to the story of Lazarus and the rich man in endnote 3 [of my following article]. . . it is likely that Jesus used an existing story well-known to the first-century Jews to make his point “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
      The point of Jesus telling the story is not to tell us the nature of Hades.
      Hades is neither Gehenna (hell) or the Lake of Fire. It is mentioned 10 times in the New Testament.”

      Please take a look at endnote 3 of the next post. Hades is also mentioned briefly in endnote 7 on this page.

  18. Hi Jake,

    1) So you take each of Jesus’ statements where he mentions Gehenna as conveying facts and instructions that we are to take literally?
    ~ Are people who say ‘Raca’ really answerable to a court of law?
    ~ Did Jesus really want us to cut off or gouge out body parts that aren’t working properly?
    ~ Did the teachers of the law and the Pharisees really travel by land and sea to convert one person? And where they actually snakes?
    ~ And where is the concept of eternal torment in any of these verses? Rather there is the concept of destruction (Matt. 10:28).

    2) The word Gehenna is translated as “hell” in many English New Testaments. This is a simple fact that can easily be proved. See here. Which of these statements that contain the word Gehenna mention eternal torment for the unredeemed?

    And why do none, zero, of the New Testament letter writers mention hell as you imagine it? If your idea of eternal conscious torment in a place called hell is real, why doesn’t Paul or any other NT letter writer ever mention anything like this?

    You’ve mentioned, or alluded to, the Holocaust in each of your comments as being a good type of man’s future eternal torment. But the Holocaust is over. There is nothing eternal about it. If anything, it shows us that destruction and death are final. Further, most people regard Hitler as thoroughly evil and despicable. But you seem to be suggesting that God will act as Hitler did.

    Paul said, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23; cf. Prov. 10:16). James said, “When sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (Jas 1:15). Peter said that God “condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Pet. 2:6). Jesus said that “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it . . .” (Matt. 7:13f).

    Where do any of these men say that ordinary people will be thrown into a pit “full of stench and maggots, where the fires burned continuously, where children were screaming and shrieking as they were burned alive, and that for centuries”? What New Testament texts support this idea?

    The only verses that mention eternal torment are Revelation 20:10 where the devil and the demonic figures of the beast and the false prophet are thrown into “the lake of fire and brimstone” where “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever”, and Revelation 14:9-11, where those who worship the beast and receive his mark are tormented and “have no rest day and night.” These are the only two verses that mention eternal torment.

    God denounced the practice of children being sacrificed to Molech where they were burned alive and killed. In Jeremiah 32:35 God says, “They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind.” Such an idea has never entered his mind, but you seem to be suggesting that God does much worse in Gehenna (i.e. the valley of Hinnom); that he burns people alive forever.

    Did you visit Gehenna in your travels?

  19. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/ten-foundational-verses-for-eternal-punishment-in-hell/

    Sin against an Eternally Holy God is judged by an eternal punishment. Righteous and True are the LORD’s Judgements, and how Gracious and Loving is His mercy and forgiveness to those who call upon the Lord Jesus Christ.

    1. Hi Bryan,

      I agree that sin is punished with an eternal punishment: the wages of sin is death.
      I also agree that Jesus has dealt with the sin problem and offers forgiveness to his followers: the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.

      For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

      There are many more Bible verses that indicate everlasting life and everlasting death are the two destinies of humanity.

      I discuss the verses brought up in Justin Taylor’s post in my article above and here: https://margmowczko.com/eternal-torment-or-death/
      Note that, even though Justin has used the word “hell” in his title, only the verses that quote Jesus actually contain the word “hell” (i.e. Gehenna). Paul, James, John and other NT writers do not use the word “hell” or Gehenna.

  20. Hello Marg. As soon as I started reading, I had a feeling you were a conditionalist/annihilationist. That’s too bad, but that’s where you are for now. We are all who we are by God’s intention, and He’s still working on all of us. I was an eternal tormentist for about 17 years and an annihilationist for about a year and a half. I have believed in the salvation of all through Jesus since 2009.

    ECT and annihilation both diminish the work of the Savior and the plan of God for all humanity and all creation. God clearly showed us the scope of Christ’s work for humanity by comparing it to Adam’s work in Romans 5 (esp. v. 18) and 1 Corinthians 15:20-18.

    Both ECT and annihilation do not teach the truth concerning aion and aionios. They both see God’s judgments as eternal, when they are not.

    The Concordant Literal New Testament is one of the few translations that treats aion and aionios consistently and accurately.

    Both ECT and annihilation have death remaining forever, contradicting the clear statement from 1 Corinthians 15:26, “The last enemy is being abolished: death” (Concordant Literal New Testament). Thus, they proclaim that Jesus does not undo all of the Adversary’s acts, which means He will not complete the mission He came to do – 1 John 3:8b “For this was the Son of God manifested, that He should be annulling the acts of the Adversary” (CLNT).

    I am currently working on a blog series “The ends of the 4 Christian hells” Part 1 can be found here: biggestjesus.com

    Following are helpful sites that teach the truth of the salvation of all through Jesus: concordant.org BiggestJesus.com MartinZender.com

    And, finally, Rethinking Hell needs to spend their time Rethinking Jesus. By promoting Rethinking Hell, you are pointing people towards doctrines of demons.

    1. Wes,

      You’ve disregarded commenting etiquette, and common courtesy, a few times in your comment.

      1. You’ve not interacted directly with the content in the article. (This article is about Gehenna, and you haven’t mentioned the word once.)

      2. You’ve taken the liberty of including four hyperlinks to other websites! (I’ve removed them all.)

      3. You’ve made premature assumptions about what I believe and what I don’t believe.

      4. You’ve implied that fellow followers of Jesus Christ who don’t hold to your views are believing in doctrines of demons. This implication is hardly the way to have a genuine conversation, let alone a respectful conversation. And it’s conceited.

      You’ve made your case poorly and arrogantly, Wes. I much prefer to read people’s thoughts about the future redemption for all mankind when they express it intelligently, graciously, and with at least a modicum of humility.

      My website is not a place for you to advertise your own ideas and disparage others. And that’s a shame, because universalism is a concept worth discussing, but only when done with mutual respect. I won’t be approving any further comments from you.

      For future reference, here’s some information about commenting etiquette: https://www.dailywritingtips.com/comment-etiquette/ Note the final statements in the linked article. “Readers’ comments are a valuable addition to a blog. The most appreciated comments are the good-natured ones that focus on the post topic.”

  21. A note on the parable of the unmerciful, unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35)

    The context of the parable

    Jesus told this parable to Peter and in response to Peter’s question: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

    This parable was not told to unbelievers. Peter was the original audience. This is an important aspect of the parable’s context.

    The effect of the parable

    What Jesus’ words mean in the parable–the story or scenario–is clear. But as with other parables and teachings, Jesus is making provocative and hyperbolic statements, and using metaphor. These would have elicited strong reactions in Peter.

    Peter would have been shocked by the lack of compassion from the unmerciful servant and shocked at the severity of the punishment from Jesus’ heavenly Father.

    The point of the parable

    The point is that Jesus feels strongly that we should sincerely forgive our brothers and sisters, not that we will be punished. He wants us to escape punishment. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matt. 18:35 CSB).

    The possibility of an end: “until”

    Also, in the parable, there is a possibility of an end to the torture: “And because he was angry, his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed” (Matt. 18:34 CSB).

    It’s interesting that the word “until” is included. If people want to take the details of the parable fairly literally, “until” gives a glimmer of hope. A sympathetic friend could pay his debt. I don’t recommend taking the details or even the big picture literally, but in real life, a sympathetic saviour has paid his debt.

    On the other hand, Jesus speaks about complete destruction when he uses the word Gehenna.

  22. Good stuff as always Marg.

    I’ll have to go back and read the entire thread, but have you discussed the debatable claim “that “Jesus taught a lot about Hell”?  

    In actuality, Jesus only mentioned “Hades” three times (& it’s nature is not explicit) and “Gehenna” only four or five times (a total tally of 11 I think if you count parallels).  For starters, that’s quite an omission (as we also see in Paul’s epistles as you’ve noted) if eternal destinies are at stake!

    Second, “Hades” is not eternal nor means the same thing as Gehenna.  

    And correct me if I’m wrong, but third, OT uses of “Gehenna” are always in contexts of /national judgment/ and not /individual eschatology/. 

    Finally, the whole Geheena debate appears to hinge on whether the term evolved during the Intertestamental / Deuterocanonical Texts Period from national judgement to individual fates–and, if so, that Jesus adopted this evolved meaning shared by some (e.g. Pharisees) but not by all (e.g. Sadducees).  (Related, Ehrman makes a solid case in his recent book “Heaven and Hell” that agrees with the view that Jesus taught perishing and not ECT).  

    Thoughts?

    Paul

    1. Thanks, Paul.

      In the article, I’ve listed every New Testament verse where Jesus uses the word Gehenna. Jesus uses the word 11 times in 6 passages in 3 Gospels.

      In a footnote, I’ve also cited every New Testament verse that mentions Hades. Jesus uses this word in Matthew 11:23, 16:18 and Luke 10:15, 16:23. Because Hades is distinct from Gehenna, I discuss it only briefly in a footnote.

      Gehenna (Hebrew: Ge-hinnom “the valley of Hinnom”) occurs thirteen times in the Hebrew Bible.
      “Five times it serves ‘as a purely geographical term’ (Josh. 15:8; 18:16; Neh. 11:30);
      narratively, it is used three times when describing ‘historical events that happened in the valley and its environs’ (2 Kgs. 23:10; 2 Chr. 28:3; 33:6; Jer 32:35);
      and the five remaining occurrences are within the Jeremaic text as prophecies ‘about a war in the valley in which God will punish the apostates of Judah’ (Jer. 7:31,32; 19:2,6).”
      Quoted from Rethinking Hell.

      In Jeremiah’s writings, Gehenna was a place of national destruction: an immediate, devastating, violent, terrifying, and complete destruction (cf. 1 Enoch 27). Gehenna was then used by Jesus as a metaphor for devastating and total destruction.

      ________

      In the Hebrew Bible, there is no concept of “hell” that is akin to traditional Christian concepts. In the Jewish Apocrypha, however, there are a few allusions to a judgment that sounds somewhat akin to “hell.”

      ~ Judith 16:17 speaks of fire, flesh-eating worms, and weeping forever, but neither Gehenna of Hades is mentioned. Also, this fate is a national punishment; it is not related to individual eschatology.

      I believe the imagery in Judith 16:7, like the imagery of Gehenna in the Gospels, is designed to show the horror of the destruction that comes with God’s judgement on the enemies of his people and on the unredeemed.

      ~ In 1 Enoch 90:24-27 there is judgement and an abyss of fire, but those thrown into the fire are burnt. Even bones are burned.

      ~ 4 Ezra (2 Esdras) 7:33-45, which dates to the late first century CE, or even later, mentions something like “hell”: “Then the pit of torment shall appear, and opposite it shall be the place of rest; and the furnace of ‘hell’ (Gehenna?) shall be disclosed, and opposite it the paradise of delight.”

      4 Ezra/2 Esdras is thought to have originally been written in Hebrew or Aramaic and then translated in Greek, but the Greek survives only as fragments. If there was a Hebrew/Aramaic version, it is completely lost. The Vulgate has a transliteration of “Gehenna” in 4 Ezra 7:36 and also in 4 Ezra 2:29. I believe the Syriac also has a transliteration of Gehenna in these verses, but I have not been able to check. (“Gehenna” occurs only in 2:29 in the RSV. See here.)

      For the Shammaite Pharisee school, the fire of Gehenna was endured for a season, a kind of purgatory that people went through before admittance into Paradise.

  23. Very refreshing to read this. I questioned the hell doctrine years ago, and came across the anillation doctrine. It made more sense than eternal damnation. Glad others see that.

  24. Jesus depiction of the rich man and Lazarus certainly depicts an immediate and abiding torture. If you were to say that this is just a parable and this not a reflection of eternal reality, then why would Jesus even use that as an illustration? Also, this story is structurally different than all of the other parables. This is the only parable that he named a character. This is the only parable where he does not use a situation of their observable environment from which they can deduct his meaning. Why would Jesus create an imaginary story of judgement when he could have just as easily created a parable that would more accurately depict an annihilatistic judgement if that was the reality of afterlife. Why does Jesus speak of a judgement where even a doesn’t die, nor is the fire quenched? This is why the whole counsel of God is important when trying to get a full understanding of any subject. Truth is found in comparing all passages on a subject, not by isolating some.

    1. Jesus uses various parables and stories to make certain points. The point of Rich Man and Lazarus story is not to teach about the afterlife. Jesus’ point is “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” Luke 16:31.

      The structure of the story is similar to that of the story at the beginning of the chapter, Luke 16. Both stories begin the same way: “There was a certain man who was rich” (Ἄνθρωπός τις ἦν πλούσιος … Luke 16:1; Ἄνθρωπος δέ τις ἦν πλούσιος … Luke 16:19).

      Jesus may not have created the Rich Man and Lazarus story. It’s likely the story was already in existence and circulating among first-century Jews, and Jesus used it to make his point. However, these characters and their setting, which is hades, not Gehenna (see footnote on hades), may well be just as imaginary as the characters and the inn in the Good Samaritan story, for example, a story which also begins with Ἄνθρωπός τις … (Luke 10:30).

      Jesus gave several parables and made several statements about destruction or annihilation (i.e. eternal death) as a punishment, sometimes using the metaphor of fire that consumes. Here’s just one:
      “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:6, my italics).

      The repeated and consistent message of the New Testament is that life and death are the two destinies of humanity.

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