Friday, April 4, 2014

Unveiling the Myth of Hell and Eternal Torment, Part 4

Part 4 – Gehenna: The Place Jesus Mentioned

Prior parts to this series about hell are as follows:

If you’ve read the prior three parts on the myth of hell, you may be asking:  “Didn’t Jesus teach about hell?  Didn’t he make himself clear when he spoke of hell and its torment?”

Jesus warned the Israelites about a place of burning, but it wasn’t hell by today’s modern definition.  Jesus referred to a literal geographical location in Jerusalem called Valley of Hinnom (Gai Hinnom in Hebrew language).  Its name was transliterated with Greek letters into the word Geenna.    

The name Gehenna (as written in English) is derived from the Hebrew words “gai”(valley, deep gorge, or ravine) and “Hinnom”.   The Hebrew name Hinnom literally means “lamentation”.  The Valley of Hinnom can also be referred to as the Valley of Lamentation.

All the most common, mainstream Bible translations (KJV, NIV, NAS, etc.) erroneously translate Gehenna as “hell”.  The Young’s Literal, Rotherham’s Emphasized, Concordant Literal, and Dabhar translations remain true to the fact that Gehenna is name of a geographical location and correctly translate it as such. 

The hell-believing and hell-promoting bias of many translators becomes quite evident when we take into consideration that all other geographical locations mentioned in the New Testament are correctly transliterated with their proper names in the mainstream translations:

Bethleem (Gk.) is always Bethlehem. 
Ioudaia (Gk.) is always Judaea. 
Hierousalem (Gk.) is always Jerusalem. 
Nazaret (Gk.) is always Nazareth. 
Kapharnaoum (Gk.) is always Capernaum.

But then, whoops!!  We get to Geenna (Gk.) and suddenly it is translated as “hell”. 
Excuse me, but, what the hell?! 

Let’s ask some questions, because by asking questions it is more likely that we can arrive at the truth.

What was the Valley of Hinnom / Gehenna? 
Why was it a location known for lamentation?
What was its history? 
What did it mean to the Israelites?
Was it a hell on earth?
Is it the future place of eternal torment for all those who do not accept Christ before dying?

Let’s find out.

Gehenna (hell?) – A Boundary of Tribal Lands

Here’s a map of ancient Jerusalem showing the location of the Valley of Hinnom on the south side of Jerusalem—not a large place.  It is simply a valley area outside the city.  The Valley of Hinnom is mentioned in the Old Testament 10 times:

Joshua 15:8, 18:16
2 Kings 23:10
2 Chronicles 28:3, 33:6
Nehemiah 11:30
Jeremiah 7:31-32, 19:2, 19:6

The first mention of the Valley of Hinnom is found in the Old Testament in Joshua 15:8 and Joshua 18:16 where we are given the territorial boundaries of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin:

Then the border went up the valley of Ben-hinnom to the slope of the Jebusite on the south (that is, Jerusalem); and the border went up to the top of the mountain which is before the valley of Hinnom to the west, which is at the end of the valley of Rephaim toward the north.

The border went down to the edge of the hill which is in the valley of Ben-hinnom, which is in the valley of Rephaim northward; and it went down to the valley of Hinnom, to the slope of the Jebusite southward, and went down to En-rogel.


Gehenna (hell?) – A Valley of Child Sacrifices

In 2 Kings 16:1-4 and 2 Chronicles 28, the valley is mentioned in the account of Ahaz, King of Judah.  Ahaz involved himself in all kinds of idolatrous and detestable worship of other gods and some of that worship was practiced in the Valley of Hinnom. 

“Ahaz was twenty years king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do right in the sight of the Lord as David his father had done [Ahaz was a descendant of King David]. But he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel; he also made molten images for the Baals [false gods].  Moreover, he burned incense in the valley of Ben-hinnom and burned his sons in fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had driven out before the sons of Israel.  He sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills and under every green tree.”  (2 Chronicles 28:1-4)

Ahaz not only worshipped false gods and burned incense for them, he also followed in the horrific practices of the heathen nations and burned his live children as sacrifices to other gods in the Valley of Hinnom. 

Manasseh, the grandson of Ahaz, followed in his footsteps:

“Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty five years in Jerusalem.  He did evil in the sight of the Lord according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord dispossessed before the sons of Israel.  For he … erected altars for the Baals and made Asherim [wooden poles of female goddess] … He made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery and dealt with mediums and spiritists.  He did much evil in the sight of the Lord … Thus Manasseh misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel.”  (2 Chronicles 33:1-9)

Many years later, Manasseh’s grandson brought about a great change in the land of Judah.  In 2 Kings 22-23 we are given the account of King Josiah who instituted huge reforms over the land.  Josiah was only eight years old when he became king after his father, King Amon, was killed by his servants.  By the time Josiah became king, the people of Judah had become very idolatrous.  When King Josiah was 26 years old and had been ruling for 18 years, he instituted a renovation of the temple.  During that time, the high priest Hilkiah discovered the book of the law. Upon reading it, King Josiah became extremely distraught that so much of God’s law had been blatantly disobeyed, and he enforced a religious reformation over Judah.  He demanded the removal of all the idolatrous items, prostitutes, and priests that had been given a place in God’s temple, and he took down all the high places of worship for other gods.  King Josiah also did the following:

He also defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire for Molech.  (2 Kings 23:10)

Sometime after King Josiah’s reign, God recounted the wrongdoings and unfaithfulness of Judah and spoke to the prophet Jeremiah:

For the sons of Judah have done that which is evil in My sight,” declares the Lord, “they have set their detestable things in the house which is called by My name, to defile it.  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.”  (Jeremiah 7:30-31)

Burning live children was not something God commanded His people to do, nor an idea which had even come into His mind to command them to do.

Topheth was the exact area in the Valley of Hinnom where the sacrificial fires burned.  The Old Testament speaks of Topheth 9 different times:

2 Kings 23:10
Isaiah 30:33
Jeremiah 7:31 and 32
Jeremiah 19:6, 11, 12, 13, and 14

The Valley of Hinnom was a disgraceful place of heinous acts.


Gehenna (hell?) – What Jesus Said About It

There are a total of only 12 references to Gehenna (the Valley of Hinnom) in the entire New Testament.  Four of those twelve are repetitions between gospel accounts.  Jesus mentioned Gehenna a total of 7 times (in the gospel of Matthew), and one of those was in almost exact repetition of something he had already stated before (see Matt 5:29 and 18:9).  The gospel of Mark repeats three of the same instances given in Matthew.  The gospel of Luke repeats one of the instances from Matthew.  Aside from the gospel accounts, Gehenna is mentioned once in James 3:6.

Some people believe that if Jesus talked about hell, then it must be a real place of real torment.  However, Jesus did not ever teach about hell at all (not by today’s definition)!  Jesus talked about Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom, the geographical location where burning child sacrifices were performed for false gods and where some people will experience a swift and temporary judgment.

When reading the Bible or studying it, it is of the utmost importance to keep in the forefront of the mind who was being addressed and in what particular context.  If those two key details are ignored, there will be a huge margin for misunderstanding and confusion.

The New American Standard uses the word “hell” as a translation for the word Geenna (Gk.) all throughout the gospel accounts.  But in the margin notes for the word hell, the NAS explains that the word “hell” is literally Gehenna.  Right! It is the place called Gehenna.  So…why didn’t they use its proper name?! 

In Matthew 5:22, 5:29, and 5:30, Jesus is standing on the mountain addressing his disciples and throngs of Israeli people.  He teaches them about the future coming “kingdom” and giving specific instructions to the Israeli people.  As he speaks, he mentions Gehenna: 

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery [Gehenna] hell.

If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into [Gehenna] hell.

If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into [Gehenna] hell.

In Matthew 10:28, Jesus addresses his disciples as he commissions them to go to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and tells them to proclaim ‘Near is the kingdom of the heavens!’” (see Matthew 10:6-7).  He warns the disciples not to be afraid of what may be physically done to them as they proclaim the upcoming kingdom:

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in [Gehenna] hell.

In Matthew 18:9, Jesus speaks to his disciples and answers their question of who would be “the greatest” in the upcoming “kingdom of the heavens”:

If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery [Gehenna] hell.

In Matthew 23, Jesus again speaks to the throngs and His disciples and gives a lengthy and super serious reprimand to the scribes and Pharisees.  He calls the scribes and Pharisees all sorts of names and denounces their pretentious and haughty behaviors which are not godly at all.  Matthew 23:15 and 23:33 are two little snippets from that long discourse:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of [Gehenna] hell as yourselves.

You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of [Gehenna] hell?

Interestingly enough, in Matthew 5:22, Jesus warns His disciples and the throngs of people about calling others “fools” and possibly facing Gehenna and “fools” is exactly what He calls the scribes and Pharisees all throughout Matthew 23.

In Mark 9:43-48 Jesus explained to his disciples:

“And if your hand should ever be snaring you, strike it off.  It is ideal for you to be entering into life maimed, rather than, having two hands, to come away into Gehenna, into the unextinguished fire where their worm is not deceasing and the fire is not going out.  And if your foot should be snaring you, strike it off.  For it is ideal for you to be entering into life maimed or lame, rather than, having two feet to be cast into Gehenna, into the unextinguished fire, where their worm is not decesasing and the fire is not going out.  And if your eye should be snaring you, cast it out.  It is ideal for you to be entering into the kingdom of God one-eyed, rather than, having two eyes, to be cast into the Gehenna of fire, where their worm is not deceasing and the fire is not going out.”  (CLNT)

During his earthly ministry, Jesus spoke to His disciples and the people of Israel about the possibility of an impending judgment of the fire of Gehenna for certain behaviors.  Not once (not ever!) did Jesus say to His disciples or to the throngs of Israeli people, “Believe in me as your Savior and confess me to be the Christ or face the fire and tortures of eternal damnation in hell”.  Such instructions never came out of the mouth of Jesus.

In essence, this is what Jesus really said in the above mentioned accounts: 

People of Israel,

If, in anger, you say to your brother, ‘You are a fool!’, you may face the judgment of Gehenna during the upcoming kingdom.  (Matt 5:22)

If you so much as look at a woman with lust, you are committing adultery.  It is better to cut off your hand and pluck out your eye than to lust, or act in lust, and end up having your whole body thrown into Gehenna during the upcoming kingdom.  (Matt 5:29)


Don’t be afraid of people who can kill your body, be afraid of God who is able to destroy the soul and the body in Gehenna during the upcoming kingdom.  (Matt 10:28)

Don’t focus your eye or desire on being greater or of more importance in the upcoming kingdom, and don’t be a snare to others in such matters.  It’s better for you to pluck that eye out than to end up in Gehenna during the upcoming kingdom.  (Matt 18:9)

It is better to cut off or pluck out whatever is tempting you or causing you to do wrong, than to miss out on the upcoming kingdom life because you instead ended up dead in Gehenna with the worms and fire eating upon your dead body.  (Mark 9:43-48)

Scribes and Pharisees,

You are such deceivers and fakes!  You convince others to believe in God and then you teach them to become even worse hypocrites than yourselves. (Matt 23:15)

How will you escape the judgment of Gehenna during the upcoming kingdom?  (Matt 23:33)


Jesus mentioned “the kingdom” over 40 times in the gospel of Matthew alone while only mentioning Gehenna about 12 times.  Why? 

If “hell” is such a horrific never-ending sentence as is commonly taught today, shouldn’t there have been a greater emphasis placed upon on keeping people from ending up there? 

What is the upcoming kingdom Jesus referred to?  
Is it heaven eternal, forever and ever?  No.

God’s chosen people of Israel have an expectation of a kingdom to come when they will rule with Christ for a certain time period.  This kingdom is not referring to an eternal, heavenly life.  The kingdom Christ talked about is an earthly kingdom which will take place at a future time and for a particular duration of time:

“Jesus said to them, Verily, I am saying to you, that you who follow Me, in the renascence whenever the Son of Mankind should be seated on the throne of His glory, you also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who leaves houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or fields, on account of My name, a hundred fold shall be getting, and shall be enjoying the allotment of life eonian.”  (Matthew 19:28-30, CLNT)

“‘Lord, art Thou at this time restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ Yet He said to them, ‘Not yours is it to know times or eras which the Father placed in His own jurisdiction.’”  (Acts 1:6-7, CLNT)

[For more about the upcoming kingdom era also refer to Daniel 2, 7, 12 and Revelation 19, 20, 21.  In the future, I will offer a more thorough review of matters about the kingdom era.]

After the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and as the disciples went forth to proclaim the truth of Christ being the Messiah, Gehenna is not mentioned again in the Scripture accounts, except for James suggesting that the human tongue is set on fire by Gehenna. 

Why is Gehenna not mentioned more often?  Shouldn't there have been a greater emphasis on saving people from such a dreadful and never-ending doom?

And the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mount where Jesus appointed them, and having seen him, they bowed to him, but some did waver.   And having come near, Jesus spake to them, saying, `Given to me was all authority in heaven and on earth; having gone, then, disciple all the nations, (baptizing them -- to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all, whatever I did command you,) and lo, I am with you all the days -- till the full end of the age.'  (Matthew 28:16-20, YLT)

The disciples did not go forth to fulfill their commission by preaching hell, fire, and brimstone to unbelievers.  Were the disciples negligent and irresponsible with the assignment they received from Christ?

No, the disciples were not being irresponsible or negligent.  What they understood of Gehenna has nothing to do with what Christianity teaches about hell today.

In an upcoming post titled "Part 5 – Gehenna: It's Purpose in the Future", I will continue discussing facts about Gehenna, it's future purpose, what the Apostle Paul said about it, and what the place looks like today.  If you happen to go visit present day Israel, it might be fun to go have a picnic in Gehenna.

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