Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

What Jesus Talked About When He Talked About Hell

The word Jesus uses in Greek is γέεννα (Gehenna), which actually means "The Valley of the Son of Hinnom". An over simplified description of Gehenna would be that it was the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem; this was the place where both garbage and dead bodies would be discarded and consumed by a fire that was likely always burning. The location goes all the way back to the book of Joshua, and was a place where bad things happened-- child sacrifice, bodies were cremated, etc. Basically, imagine a dump where garbage is burned add into that the vision of burning bodies and a historical connotation of child sacrifice, and you'll see that it wasn't a very desirable place. However, it was a very ​literal​ place and the original audience of Jesus would have understood it as such. They would not have heard the word Gahenna and thought of our concept of hell-- they would have realized Jesus was talking about an actual place outside the city.

What was Jesus talking about when he talked about hell? Well, that’s actually a great question.

Growing up I was often told that “Jesus talked more about hell than he did heaven”, but I don’t once remember being encouraged to actually research from a historical and grammatical perspective what Jesus was actually talking about when he used the word “hell”. (In their defense, I don’t think I ever had a religious leader with advanced theological training, so they probably didn’t realize that someone might want to “look this up” either).

The first discovery one will make on such an investigation, is the inconvenient truth that the word “hell” didn’t exist in first century Israel. This brings up one crucial problem when translating/interpreting the Bible apart from any scholastic work: we see English words that have specific linguistic and cultural connotations and meanings, and read those meanings into an ancient text which may, or may not, have intended to send the same meaning.

The word “hell” becomes a prime example: the word we use today, doesn’t actually appear in language until approximately AD 725– long after the first century. In addition, the word doesn’t come from Hebrew at all, but rather is ultimately rooted in Proto-Germanic. According to the The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, the word “hell” was adopted into our vocabulary as a way to introduce the pagan concept of hell into Christian theology– which it did quite successfully.

Therefore, we know right off the bat that when we read scripture in English, we’re not actually reading what was originally said and risk reading into the text instead of getting back to the original historical and grammatical meaning of the text. We do this in many areas, which is why competency in Biblical languages or at least Koine Greek, is a mandatory requirement at legitimate institutions of higher theological learning– and why one would do well to hold theology in humility until they are well versed in the grammatical and historical realities of any given ancient text.

It is true however, that we do see– and not infrequently– Jesus refer to “hell”. So what was he talking about?

It’s easy to dismiss something in scripture as just being “metaphorical” without having an intelligent reason to back that up, so we’ve got to go deeper. In this case, we find that Jesus was actually referring to a literal place– and not a literal place of the future, but a literal place of first century Israel. “Hell” was a place that the people of Jesus’ time could actually go and see (image below). So, what was it? Here you go:

The word Jesus uses in Greek is γέεννα (Gehenna), which actually means “The Valley of the Son of Hinnom”. An over simplified description of Gehenna would be that it was the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem; this was the place where both garbage and dead bodies would be discarded and consumed by a fire that was likely always burning. The location goes all the way back to the book of Joshua, and was a place where bad things happened– child sacrifice, bodies were cremated, etc. Basically, imagine a dump where garbage is burned– add into that the vision of burning bodies and a historical connotation of child sacrifice, and you’ll see that it wasn’t a very desirable place. However, it was a very literal place and the original audience of Jesus would have understood it as such. They would not have heard the word “Gahenna” and thought of our concept of hell– they would have realized Jesus was talking about an actual place outside the city.

Jesus did talk of Gehenna as a warning to his audience, but not in the same contextual framework you and I see it from a modern perspective. As my friend and co-Kingdom Conspirator Kurt Willems previously wrote on this same topic:

“When Jesus appeals to Gehenna, he evokes a literal place, not in the underworld, but outside of Jerusalem. Most of the time Jesus uses “hell” in the context of parabolic imagery. To say “hell” is to use imagery that helps listeners understand the danger in this life and the next of not joining up with God’s kingdom purposes.”

As Kurt said, I think the warning of Gehenna is two-fold, one with a very practical application for his audience and one that is symbolic of consequences in the afterlife. For example, it Matthew 23:33 we see Jesus issue the religious leaders a stern warning:

“You are nothing but snakes and the children of snakes! How can you escape going to Gehenna?”

Now, going back to our historical context, we know that the original audience who heard this warning would not have thought Jesus was talking about the “hell” that you or I think of. Instead, he is warning them about their pending risk to literally be burned in the Valley of Hinnom.

Here’s what they would have heard: “You are nothing but snakes and the children of snakes! How will you escape going to the Valley of Hinnom?”

When we look at historical context, we remember that Jesus clearly warned people about the coming judgement against Israel. At the beginning of Matthew 24 Jesus explicitly sets the stage for the coming destruction, warning them that even the temple will be destroyed (“not one stone will remain on another, it will all be thrown down.” V. 2) Jesus goes so far as to even tell them what the signs of the coming judgment (the end of the “age”) would look like: wars, rumors of wars, famine, earthquakes, etc. As Jesus describes this “great tribulation” with horrible persecution, he advises them that if they want to escape death at the hands of the Romans, they would need to flee to the hillsides when they see the “signs of the times” (verse 16).

This actual event and the fulfillment of Jesus’ warning came in AD70 when Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem along with her temple. Presumably, those who heeded Jesus’ warning in Matthew 24 of fleeing to the hillside would have survived the advancing destruction of the Roman army… but those who didn’t?

Well, those folks were killed. And guess what we know actually happened to their bodies? They were burned in… “hell”, just outside of Jerusalem– exactly as Jesus had warned. This makes the teachings of Jesus very practical when considering the historical and grammatical context: those who listened to him would live, and those who didn’t would end up burned in the Valley of Hinnom. While we don’t know for sure, it is highly likely that some/many of the people in the audience when Jesus warned “how will you escape going to the Valley of Hinnom?” actually ended up dead and burned in Gehenna by the Romans.

You probably didn’t hear any of this in Sunday School, but that’s what Jesus was talking about when he talked about hell, at least on a historical level (not accounting for symbolism or dual fulfillment). However, I still affirm that his warnings of hell also have implications for the afterlife– which is why I remain an annihilationist with the hope there will be opportunities for the unjust to come to postmortem repentance, and be reconciled to God through Christ.

All things considered, I believe it important to realize that when Jesus discusses hell, a primary purpose (not negating secondary) was a warning of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and that refusal to heed his advice would result in one being killed and burned in Gehenna.



This article was part of a series on hell. You can find a directory of the entire series by clicking here.

Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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152 Responses

  1. I have never believed in a hellish eternity. I grew up in a religion that didn’t believe in it either. We believed, like you, in a sort of temporary punishment that led to reconciliation if the person repented and came to know Christ in the afterlife (but they had to want to–some people may choose to stay in this hellish existence). However, these days I’m an ordinary Lutheran and have been doing some Bible study independently. What do you think it means when Jesus says things like, “They shall be cast into darkness” or “they shall receive eternal punishment”? I’m referring to lines in Matthew 25 and such passages like them, but I am not quoting word for word.

  2. I see what your saying, and it’s very interesting, but how does this account for the lake of fire in revelations. That seems to me something different.

  3. No problem with your interpretation of hell as Gehenna, but how do you deal with the “fiery furnace” of Matthew 13, or the lake of fire in Revelation?

  4. I agree whole-heartedly with this intelligent discussion of Gehenna and the fact that our concept of a fiery hell did not even exist in Jesus’ time. Most of our “theology” of hell comes from two secular sources: Dante and Milton.

    I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the seemingly more formed image of hell that we see in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, though. A later Lucan addition after the idea of a hell of punishment began circulating? Or something else?

  5. FYI, the notion that the Valley of Hinnom was a continually burning garbage dump in Jesus’ day is a medieval legend with no historical evidence from antiquity to support it.

  6. A couple of words that Christians should become acquainted with are exegesis and eisegesis. Entirely too much Christian theology today is based on the latter – making doctrine from something that may be hinted at in scripture but is never actually stated. Reading INTO the Word what you want it to say rather than reading what it ACTUALLY says leads to such teaching as “Jesus is the only way to be saved.” Comparing Acts 2:12-17 with Joel 2:28-32 should dispel that idea. Remember that LORD in all capitals in the OT is a replacement for the Almighty’s name, NOT, as is supposed by most Christians reading the Acts passage, “Jesus.” (Also see 1 Tim. 1:1; 2:3; Titus 1:3; and Jude 25.)

  7. “According to the The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology,
    the word “hell” was adopted into our vocabulary as a way to introduce
    the pagan concept of hell into Christian theology– which it did quite
    successfully.” That implies that English-speaking Christians have, ever since, had a different conception of hell from that of the rest of the world. I find that unlikely.

  8. Hell is the future place of eternal punishment of the damned, including the devil and his fallen angels. There are several words rendered as Hell: Hades–A Greek word. It is the place of the dead–the location of the person between death and resurrection. (See Matt. 11:23, 16:18, Acts 11:27, 1 Cor. 15:55, Rev. 1:18, 6:8). Gehenna–A Greek word. It was the place where dead bodies were dumped and burned (2 Kings 23:13-14). Jesus used the word to designate the place of eternal torment (Matt. 5:22, 29, 30, Mark 9:43, Luke 12:5). Sheol–A Hebrew word. It is the place of the dead and not necessarily the grave but the place the dead go to. It is used of both the righteous (Psalm 16:10, 30:3, Isaiah 38:10) and the wicked (Num. 16:33, Job. 24:19, Psalm 9:17). Hell is a place of eternal fire (Matt. 25:41, Rev. 19:20). It was prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41) and will be the abode of the wicked (Rev. 21:8) and the fallen angels (2 Pet. 2:4).

    1. Nope…I notice you’ve taken 2 Peter’s use of the pagan Tartarus……

      “In Greek mythology, Tartarus (/ˈtɑːrtərəs/; Ancient Greek: Τάρταρος Tartaros) is the deep abyss that is used as a dungeon of torment and suffering for the wicked and as the prison for the Titans.”

      “In Roman mythology, Tartarus is the place where sinners are sent. Virgil describes it in the Aeneid as a gigantic place, surrounded by the flaming river Phlegethon and triple walls to prevent sinners from escaping from it. It is guarded by a hydra with fifty black gaping jaws, which sits at a screeching gate protected by columns of solid adamantine, a substance akin to diamond – so hard that nothing will cut through it. Inside, there is a castle with wide walls, and a tall iron turret. Tisiphone, one of the Erinyes who represents revenge, stands guard sleepless at the top of this turret lashing a whip. There is a pit inside which is said to extend down into the earth twice as far as the distance from the lands of the living to Olympus. At the bottom of this pit lie the Titans, the twin sons of Aloeus, and many other sinners. Still more sinners are contained inside Tartarus, with punishments similar to those of Greek myth.”

  9. Is Hell Eternal Conscious Torment?
    There are some Christian groups and many cults that deny the idea that hell, in the general sense, means eternal, conscious punishment. Some maintain that God’s eternal punishment is annihilation or non-existence. Others say it is temporal, and that eventually all will be saved out of hell. Perhaps the most common objection is that a loving God would never punish people in eternal torment. We agree that God is love (1 John 4:8), but He is also just (Neh. 9:32-33; 2 Thess. 1:6) and eternal (Psalm 90:2; 1 Tim. 1:17). God punishes the evildoer (Isaiah 11:13), and this punishment will be eternal. But the question remains, is this eternal punishment conscious or not?
    There are verses that can be interpreted to support the idea that the dead are not conscious after death: (Ecc. 9:5–the dead know nothing4 and Psalm 146:4 – their thoughts perish – are good examples.) Other verses compare the dead to sleep: Acts 13:36; 1 Cor. 15:1-6; 1 Thess. 4:13, etc. But these latter verses are merely comparing the similarity between the appearance of the dead and the appearance of someone sleeping.

    1. Hell is a real place. It is not mere unconsciousness. It is not temporal. It is eternal torment. Perhaps that is why Jesus spoke more of hell than heaven and spent so much time warning people not to go there. After all, if people just stopped existing, why warn them? If it was temporal, they’d get out in a while. But if it were eternal and conscious, then the warning is strong.
      Jesus said, “And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell,” (Matt. 5:29-30).

    2. Lol….carm….dear me…..

      Here’s a thought dude….The blokes that wrote the Bible all had different ideas and beliefs about life after death….because no one knew anything about it. I know that’s an inconvenient truth for people like yourself who dishonestly try to mesh everything ioin to one narrative.

      But it’s false.

      Ecclesiastes was most probably written by a Sadduccee.

  10. Hell is . . .
    A place of eternal fire and torment
    Many think hell is a state of mind and right here on earth, or that it simply doesn’t exist. It does. The Bible tells us about it.
    Mark 9:43, “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.”
    Rev. 14:11, “And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.”
    See also Luke 16:19-31; 2 Pet. 2:4; Matt. 22:13; Jude 6, 23; Rev. 21:8.

    1. Why are you dishonestly using Luke 16????

      It is a parable – not an actual event….

      And it’s normally fundies like you who make Jesus out to be a liar.

      Once again there is nothing in that parable about anyone’s beliefs….

      1. Why don’t the folks who take this literally not also take literally the parts where the rich man has a tongue (shouldn’t his decaying body still be on earth, the resurrection would not yet have occurred for him), Lazarus resides in Abraham’s bosom (surely that is not literal), and the dead can communicate with one another (doubtful anyone in heaven can be very happy while watching their family and friends suffer)?

        1. Well I’d like to know at what point Lazarus had faith in Jesus.

          It actually destroys the Faith Alone types.

          The whole story is about the rich v the poor (Marxism anyone?)

          You have to be extremely dishonest to claim this as an Evangelical faith exercise but then that’s how these things get twisted.

          It shows Jesus wasn’t as worried about what people believed than how they treated others.

  11. Jesus used the word to designate the place of eternal torment (Matt. 5:22, 29, 30, Mark 9:43, Luke 12:5)

    1. BIBLE
      (Correct): Hell is the future, eternal abode of the damned. It was originally created for the
      devil and his demonic forces (Matt. 25:41) but will also include those who reject
      Christ. It is a place of eternal torment (Matt. 5:22, 29, 30, Mark 9:43, Luke 12:5).

      1. The Bible clearly and explicitly teaches that hell is a real place to which the wicked/unbelieving are sent after death. We have all sinned against God (
        Romans 3:23 ). The just punishment for that sin is death (Romans 6:23 ). Since all of our sin is ultimately against God (Psalm 51:4 ), and since God is an infinite and eternal Being, the punishment for sin, death, must also be infinite and eternal. Hell is this infinite and eternal death which we have earned because of our sin.
        The punishment of the wicked dead in hell is described throughout Scripture as “eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41 ), “unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12 ), “shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2 ), a place where “the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44-49 ), a place of “torment” and “fire” (Luke 16:23-24 ), “everlasting destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 ), a place where “the smoke of torment rises forever and ever” (Revelation 14:10-11 ), and a “lake of burning sulfur” where the wicked are “tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10 ).
        The punishment of the wicked in hell is as never ending as the bliss of the righteous in heaven. Jesus Himself indicates that punishment in hell is just as everlasting as life in heaven (Matthew 25:46 ). The wicked are forever subject to the fury and the wrath of God. Those in hell will acknowledge the perfect justice of God (Psalm 76:10 ). Those who are in hell will know that their punishment is just and that they alone are to blame (Deuteronomy 32:3-5 ). Yes, hell is real. Yes, hell is a place of torment and punishment that lasts forever and ever, with no end. Praise God that, through Jesus, we can escape this eternal fate (John 3:16 , 18 , 36 ).

        1. Biblical Terms Describing Where the Dead Are

          Sheol – a Hebrew term simply describing “the grave” or “death” – Does not refer to “hell” specifically
          Hades – A Greek term that usually refers to hell – a place of torment (Luke 10:15; 16:23, etc.)
          Gehenna – A Greek term (borrowed from a literal burning dump near Jerusalem) that always refers to hell – a place of torment (Matthew 5:30; 23:33)
          “Lake of fire”- the final abode of unbelievers after they are resurrected (Revelation 20:14,15)
          “Abraham’s bosom” – (Luke 16:22) a place of eternal comfort
          “Paradise” – (Luke 23:43) a place of eternal comfort
          “With the Lord” – a key phrase describes where church age believers are after death (Philippians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; 2 Corinthians 5:8)
          “New heavens and earth” – where believers will be after they are resurrected (Revelation 20:4-6; 21:1-4)

          1. I feel sorry for all the millions and millions of people who lived thousands of years before the NT. All those OT prophets and writings and God never bothered to tell anyone that unending torment awaited them if they didn’t believe a certain way. They were told they would just die. And then we have Paul in the NT who apparently was unaware as well. But the bit about people in hell who would rather continue to suffer in agony than worship God is the strangest one.

      2. Nah…..Luke 16 shows it had nothing to do with rejecting Christ.

        It may well be the abode for pharisees like yourself though.

    1. Greek was the lingua franca for the entire Mediterranean. Jesus and the apostles spoke Aramaic and Greek, and they had names in both languages. This is the real reason for Saul-Paul, Cephas-Peter, etc. Greek was like English to our international community. If you notice, there’s never a mention of translators between Jews, Greeks, and Romans — they all knew Greek.

  12. This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This is quite possibly the goofiest explanation of the subject of eternal punishment I’ve ever seen. I suppose next you’ll have some long winded explanation for the Lake of Fire that burns forever and ever in Revelation. Something to look forward to. LOL.

  13. What the hell are you talking about? Hell has been clearly described and documented as those four years in parochial school for students from 1910 to 2000 (and perhaps a little beyond).

  14. The Bible is full of great verses and passages about the topic of love. God’s love for us is a perfect example and starting place to study on love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.There should be no talk of love in the Bible without covering God’s love for each of us. This is the love that has led to a path for eternal life. ohn 3:16 “For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.Ephesians 4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.were is the love now?? All I’m reading is hatred; ohn 15:9-17 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. pray for all of you, in Jesus name

  15. 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. Matthew 10:28

    What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? Matthew 16:26

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

    Jesus’ main concern was always with the soul. The health of the soul was the only reality. With all due respect, whether He used the word Gehenna or not, He always meant the ‘place’ where the unfit souls were discarded. The unfit are of no use to God. They are discarded in the same way that our bodies discard unusable food waste. Strengthening a soul and bringing it to health, that’s the difficult and complicated thing that Jesus tried to teach. He warned that those who refuse to learn through authentic truth, love, justice and caring deplete their souls and will end up discarded. To be removed from the ‘Body’ of God is to be cast into a place without even the smallest trace of the Wonder, Glory and Love of God. It is to be cast into the perpetual ‘darkness’ we now call hell.

  16. Hello Benjamin. What is the source of the claim that bodies of Jews during the siege of Jerusalem were burned in Gehenna? I do not see it in Josephus.

  17. The theme of this post embodies the exact problem with Christianity in general. Its a system of supernatural beliefs based on scriptures which have been translated and misinterpreted for thousands of years. Its interpretations are unfounded and unsound, and most importantly unfalsifiable.

  18. When it comes to these questions, I think a non Christian theist and a questioning Presbytarian said it best…

    “Better not to believe in God at all than to believe something unworthy of God.” – Martin Gardner

    “Hell? Eternal punishment? What is the point of it? – Steve Allen

  19. When I was in jr. high I asked my “triple Ph.d” minister, where preachers got the impetus to push, “Jesus spoke more about hell than heaven.” He grinned and said, “You know that I don’t do that, but here.” He handed me a well-worn copy of Mark Twain’s LETTERS FROM THE EARTH. Twain’s discussion is in Letter X. “The first time the Deity came down to earth, he brought life and death; when
    he came the second time, he brought hell.” Twain’s LFTE can be found online and Letter X specifically:

    I thought then, that using Twain to support an argument against Twain’s satiric thesis, was brilliantly . . . dirty play? Hypocritical? Unimaginative but effective for people who have not read the Gospels. So, as a 13 yr. old, I got busy with the first 4 gospels recording the times that Jesus spoke of “hell” in metaphors translated into English: his discussions of heaven (translated into English) are FAR MORE cited! He discusses heaven many more times than he does “hell” or metaphorical references to “hell.” Even Twain was wrong, lol.

    I too would like to think that a loving God would give anybody a “postmortem” opportunity.

    The metaphor (and reality) of Gehenna was a powerful one with which concurrent listeners to Jesus’ words would have understood as a consequence, but perhaps not an absolute/irrevocable consequence.

    Also, referencing Matthew (sheep/goats) I could imagine no greater punishment than “everlasting” separation from God! Because I have experienced it in this life. (No; am not a “born againer” in the sense that is often over-employed, but have experienced complete divorcement from God, consciously. No fire of hell or cold–since extreme cold feels hot–in Satan’s mouth, considering Dante’s idea of the pits of hell, could be worse.)

    Jesus says many times, in varieties of terminology, that he has not come to condemn/judge humankind but to save humankind.

    As for John and Revelation (these are not the words of Jesus) “lakes of fire,” and graphic visual treats . . . another minister once gave me a book that COULD explain John’s uh, “paintings with words.” That would be Allegro’s THE SACRED MUSHROOM AND THE CROSS:-) Don Juan Matus’ Yaqui “ways of knowledge” have been used all over the world for millennia. Perhaps John was no exception. “Hallucinations from Patmos”? (And then one studies Tim Leary’s circles and diagrams and the difference is . . . ? Well, Leary is less harmful, considering the ways that “Xians” have used fear and hate, while using Jesus as a prop to do violence unto “The Other.”) And also, there’s the thought that John was writing to his time, in that his visions were to come to pass IN THAT TIME! Not in ours.

    But Corey was not writing of John nor of Paul, but of Jesus’ words. And clearly, Jesus speaks more of heaven than he does of any other place of consequence in after-or-present life. Thanks for everybody’s contributions to this discussion.

    In 12-step groups we have a saying: “Religion is often about people who are afraid of going to hell while spirituality is about people who’ve already been and don’t want to return.” Thank you for this article!

  20. Well it was really interesting to read this article because really logical 🙂 even im not christ or muslim 🙂 but it was really good …

  21. I have heard (I have no sources) that, at some point during the intertestamental period, Hebrew writers began using Gehenna as metaphoric for the place of eternal punishment of the wicked. Also, don’t forget that γεενναν is not the only name given to the place of eternal punishment. There is also λιμνη του πυρος (lake of fire), used in Revelation to refer to the place where Satan (a spiritual, not carnal, being, who cannot be burned by physical fire) is thrown, along with the resurrected bodies and souls of the wicked who have been judged.

  22. Regarding annihilation, it could be said that all of us experience episodes of that each time we sleep. Unless we reach REM sleep and have a dream, are any of us truly aware of the passage of time, the environment around us, etc? I would posit that we experience annihilation of a sort. The annihilation of consciousness. Unless our heart ceases beating while we slumber, we rise from that state of annihilation and face the day anew. Question: could it be said that the annihilation we experience is a form of punishment? Is there any suffering involved? We may miss out on an exciting or blissful activity while we sleep, but there is no active punishment, torment, suffering, in and of itself while sleeping. I see this as a microcosm of annihilationism vs. eternal life. Specifically, the viewpoint that annihilationism can in any way be compared to damnation, eternal suffering, etc. in comparison to the bliss that the redeemed are to eternally enjoy.
    I say this to illustrate that Jesus, while referring to the valley of Gehenna for illustrative purposes, is sternly warning humanity that there is an eternal, conscious suffering and separation from God awaiting those who reject Him. He isn’t talking about the unredeemed souls simply vanishing from existence, never to experience ANYTHING at all again. He is clearly warning us that following death, there is a conscious, experiential eternity waiting . How we spend that eternity is up to us, based on whether or not we accept Him as Lord and Savior. Consider the parable of the Rich man & Lazarus. The Rich man is obviously conscious of where he is, the torment he is feeling, and the fact that Lazarus is experiencing the exact opposite, safe in Abraham’s bosom. The Rich man doesn’t implore Abraham to send someone to warn his family about annihilation, He desperately wants Abraham to ensure his family does not meet the same doom as he has met. Also, consider what Jesus says at the conclusion of the parable of the sheep & goats. Matthew 25:46 states that these (the goats, or the damned) will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. The contrast is clear here. Very clear. Eternal punishment vs. eternal life. Matthew 25:41 has Jesus telling the “goats” to depart into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil & his angels…..He doesn’t tell them to depart into oblivion, the cessation of consciousness. It could be argued that the cessation of consciousness isn’t an eternal punishment at all. Certainly the annihilation of the soul negates that soul from experiencing the heavenly bliss promised to the redeemed. But it is in no way an active, eternal punishment. If anything, it is the loss of eternal life & bliss in favor of eternal nothingness. And the nothingness isn’t to be experienced consciously in some cosmic void. Annihilation is cessation of consciousness, experience of any kind. But not eternal punishment.
    God does not wish for any to experience eternal death. That is why He sent the Lord Jesus, God almighty Himself (John 8:58, Colossians 1:15-20, John 1:1) in human form, to suffer death in order that we wouldn’t have to. That is how serious eternity is, that is how serious God’s love for us is.

  23. Gehenna or Hell is symbolical which means a total
    destruction of wicked one. When wicked are destroyed they will never exist again.God don’t torment wicked on fire eternally for that is detestable
    to him as recorded in Jeremiah 32:35: “Furthermore, they built the high places of Ba′al in the Valley of the Son of Hin′nom, in order to make their sons and their daughters pass through the fire to Mo′lech, something that I had not commanded them and that had never come into my heart to do such a detestable thing, causing Judah to sin.’”

  24. What do you make of all the writings during the Intertestamental Period that seem to indicate the word Gehenna had come to mean much more than a geographical location prior to the birth of Jesus?

    1. Also curious about this. I want to believe Jesus didn’t believe in “hell” / eternal punishment in afterlife… really want to believe. But the Book of Enoch makes that especially hard. I know it’s apocalyptic and highly metaphorical in many ways but I think it’s also hard to argue against its being dualistic and communicating life-after-death is real, and will be highly unpleasant for some folks.

  25. Every time I hear this argument, I like to ask, “Well, what about Matthew 25:41, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”? Um, was Jesus referring to an imaginary place, a literal place, or a place he knew to exist outside the physical realm?

  26. The problem with making an equivalence between Gehenna and a tortuous afterlife go even deeper than this. First off, we have written Jewish records and teachings dating back to before the time of Jesus and the first time we see the word Gehenna used in reference to the afterlife by a Jewish teacher is in the 6th century CE. So if Jesus meant to be warning about the afterlife, he was using the word Gehenna in a unique and novel way which would have had to be explained to his audience.

    Secondly, Gehenna or the Valley of Hinnom is also called Tophet in the bible. Tophet plays a prominent role in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is all about the Israelites being sent into exile in Babylon. So, when Jesus spoke of Gehenna, it would have called to mind in his audience not only the physical location, but the painful, traumatic events of being sent into exile. It was commonly believed during the second temple period that while Israel had been restored at least partially as a political state, it was still in spiritual exile until the arrival of the Messiah. Importantly, Jeremiah is also the source of the good shepherd language which Jesus employs.

    By warning about Gehenna while also claiming to be the good shepherd, Jesus is communicating the times they lived in as well as his role in the whole thing. As Corey points out, there was a very real destruction awaiting Israel. And it would end, literally or metaphorically, in Gehenna for those who did not turn away from their battle stances. To escape, people needed to follow the good shepherd God had promised to send to lead them into safety and freedom. Which would be Jesus.

    (I flush this out a bit more fully here:

  27. I find it perplexing that the author writes “competency in Biblical
    languages or at least Koine Greek, is a mandatory requirement at
    legitimate institutions of higher theological learning– and why one
    would do well to hold theology in humility until they are well versed in
    the grammatical and historical realities of any given ancient text”,
    yet seems himself to be not very well versed in the actual ancient texts
    or source languages.

    While “Gehenna” is indeed a physical place, it is clearly used as a
    metaphor for a place of eternal punishment because God will destroy both
    the soul and the body there (Matt. 10:28) and it is unquenchable (Mark
    9:43). However, anyone versed in Koine will understand that Jesus also
    used other words that are popularly translated as “Hell”. For example,
    in Luke 16, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the word used is
    not “Gehenna”, but “Hades” : καὶ ἐν τῷ ᾅδῃ ἐπάρας τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτοῦ,
    ὑπάρχων ἐν βασάνοις (Luke 16:23). This itself “introduces a pagan
    concept of Hell into Christian theology”, to borrow the author’s words.

    Not only that, but it is undisputed that at the time of Christ, the
    Hebrew notion of the world of the dead as a hollow and sad place but not
    one of punishment (שְׁאוֹל or Sheol being the most common term used,
    though other words and phrases occur) had changed, perhaps under Persian
    Zoroastrian influences. It was therefore not the use of the Germanic
    word “Hell” that introduced a notion of punishment into Christian
    theology. This notion was present at the start and in the New

    There also seems to be a level of willful ignorance regarding the
    ability of the Bible to serve as a metaphor. After all, no serious
    student of the Bible would attempt to limit the understanding of “Zion”
    to the actual mountain by Jerusalem; to do so would be not only absurd
    but also destroy much of the meaning of the Bible itself. Likewise,
    attempting to limit the understanding of Gehenna to be a physical place
    (which archaeology does not support the popular myths surrounding) is
    clearly a modern attempt to explain away Hell. While I understand that
    issues such as theodicy and how a just God could punish souls in Hell
    are thorny to contend with, attempting to explain away Hell in such a
    crude fashion is not worthy of any serious theology. It’s not enough to
    throw in a vague phrase about “implications for the afterlife” after
    having just lopped off layers and layers of meaning and depth.

    As a final note, Jesus certainly didn’t discuss Hell more often than He
    did Heaven. Gehenna is only mentioned 12 times in the New Testament and
    Hades is only mentioned 9 times (which includes the epistles,
    Revelation, Act of the Apostles, etc.). Jesus personally mentioned
    Heaven, or the Kingdom of Heaven, over 100 times. I would think this
    would be immediately apparent to anyone who has read the Bible
    (regardless of language).

      1. Oh, I read it. It’s like putting a band-aid on an amputated limb. You’ve just rewritten the meaning of large parts of the Bible and then make an aside that shows you’re magnanimously willing to consider that there is something more there. One paragraph later, however, you are back at it, stating that the “primary” meaning was the literal one, in contradiction not only to a careful reading of the source text but also two thousand years of Biblical scholarship.

    1. “As a final note, Jesus certainly didn’t discuss Hell more often than He did Heaven. Gehenna is only mentioned 12 times in the New Testament and Hades is only mentioned 9 times (which includes the epistles,
      Revelation, Act of the Apostles, etc.). Jesus personally mentioned
      Heaven, or the Kingdom of Heaven, over 100 times. I would think this
      would be immediately apparent to anyone who has read the Bible
      (regardless of language).”

      Spot on. I noticed that immediately and I’m no scholar, I just grew up in the church.

        1. Yes, but who was stupid enough to tell you that? Obviously someone who never even bothered to read the New Testament (or the Old, for that matter). And if it’s wrong, why waste the reader’s time mentioning it, especially without mentioning that it is wrong?

    2. Wow, really appreciate this, sovdep. Sounds like you’re very well read, and have a good grasp on what’s being said. I know I haven’t studied so deeply as to be able to reply with such an assurance in what I’m saying with backup from research. Glad to have your input in the article; it makes a whole lot of sense!

  28. Does this HAVE to be a prediction, could it not just be an idiom? “If you don’t, you might as well live in the garbage dump” or “If you don’t, you might as well be dead.” Personally, I’d rather live in the words of God than be burned garbage.

    In any case I am always amused that most of what people think they know about hell seems to come from the Book of Nicodemus, which wasn’t even good enough to get into the Bible.

  29. If you would like to read one of the best and most convincing works of someone who was probably a universalist, read George MacDonald’s Lilith. It’s more mystic than theological maybe, but it’s an interesting read by someone whose depth of love for Christ and consequent understanding of him is unquestionable. (Make sure you have a basic understanding of MacDonald’s biography to help you understand him a little bit.)

  30. Ben, you say that «the inconvenient truth that the word “hell” didn’t exist in first century Israel». But the notion of the torments of the wicked is clear in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Although this might be a real parable, nevertheless, Jesus takes his parables only from real, existing frames. And here, the rich man is not annihilated.

    I think you have a problem understanding the concept of sin. The sin is the self-distancing of the subject (sinner) from God. Sin is self-destruction. It’s not God who punishes, but the intrinsical nature of the sin.

    Therefore, annihilation is not an option.

    1. I would respectfully counter that for some, sin could become so self destructive that in the end, there’s nothing left to destroy– which would lead to ceasing to exist. There are many annihilationists who see the postmortem refining process to produce some who have good remaining and choose to be reconciled to God, and some who, when all the negative is burned away, have nothing left.

    2. Read the parable again. The rich man is definitely in agony. But Jesus never says what happens to him after Abraham denies his requests. This cannot be used as evidence against annihilationism.

      1. Exactly. I’m not opposed to the possibility that there could be a conscious waiting- my argument is regarding the final disposition of the unjust. Between now and that moment, all kinds of things are up for debate.

      2. «Between us and you there
        is a great gulf fixed, that they that would pass from hence to you may
        not be able, and that none may cross over from thence to us.» It’s very clear that the rich man is not annihilated; rather he dwells in torments. And it’s very clear that the torments are NOT annihilation, lest he couldn’t speak about his kinsmen.

        1. It obviously isn’t clear, or careful readers of the text wouldn’t be reaching different conclusions, would they? (Sorry… pet peeve)

          The existence of a great gulf or chasm doesn’t tell us what happens next. We don’t know if the rich man is eventually consumed by the flame (the annihilationist view) or continues to endure them in agony forever (the ECT view). The fact that he can carry on a conversation about his family is not sufficient to establish either alternative.

          1. What do you think of Matthew 25:41-46?

            “41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

    3. I truly wish Jesus hadn’t told that parable. But he did. I love your thoughts on this Benjamin but while that parable’s “out there”, so will traditional “hell” IMHO.

  31. This is one of the most interesting and valuable piece of theology I have ever read. It so illustrates how the concept of hell lines up with the organic parables of Jesus. I look forward to reading more of your work.

  32. The end of Revelation lists groups of people being thrown into the “lake of fire.” How do you reconcile Jesus’ teaching with John if Patmos’ warning?

    1. In Revelation, it’s referred to as “the second death.” Also not eternal torment in a spiritual place. Death.

      1. Here is how death is defined in Revelation 20:14 from a Greek lexicon of the NT: “Often in the Sept., thánatos has the sense of destruction, perdition, misery, implying both physical death and exclusion from the presence and favor of God in consequence of sin and disobedience, but never as extinction.

        Sept (Septuagint)

        Zodhiates, Spiros: The Complete Word Study Dictionary : New Testament. electronic ed. Chattanooga, TN : AMG Publishers, 2000, c1992, c1993, S. G2288

        1. “Exclusion from the presence of God” would be more in keeping with much of what Jesus had to say about the consequences of sin — being left outside, excluded from the party going on the Master’s house. I personally have no problem with that interpretation. I take issue with the eternal torture and torment in eternal hellfire that is typically taught in Sunday school, though.

        2. θάνατος is used all throughout the NT to refer to plain old death. The dictionary you’re using is importing a bias for ETC into it’s definition. He’s essentially telling you that when you see θάνατος in the NT, you should interpret it as dead, but when it comes to a passage that impacts the doctrine of ECT, you should translated it as “misery” or “excluded” which is ridiculously inconsistent. If you check Louw-Nida you’ll see the primary definition is plain old “death”.

          1. Biased????
            Here is what Vines says-“”death,” is used in Scripture of: (a) the separation of the soul (the spiritual part of man) from the body (the material part), the latter ceasing to function and turning to dust, e.g., John 11:13;”…
            the separation of man from God; Adam died on the day he disobeyed God, Gen. 2:17, and hence all mankind are born in the same spiritual condition, Rom. 5:12,14,17,21, from which, however, those who believe in Christ are delivered, John 5:24; 1 John 3:14. “Death” is the opposite of life; it never denotes nonexistence.”

            Here is what Strongs dictionary says:

            “the death of the body. 1a that separation (whether natural or violent) of the soul and the body by which the life on earth is ended. 1b with the implied idea of future misery in hell. 1b1 the power of death. 1c
            since the nether world, the abode of the dead, was conceived as being very dark, it is equivalent to the region of thickest darkness i.e. figuratively, a region enveloped in the darkness of ignorance and sin. 2 metaph., the loss of that life which alone is worthy of the name,. 2a the misery of the soul arising from sin, which begins on earth but lasts and increases after the death of the body in hell. 3 the miserable state of the wicked dead in hell. 4 in the widest sense, death comprising all the miseries arising from sin, as well physical death as the loss of a life consecrated to God and blessed in him on earth, to be followed by wretchedness in hell.”

            Vines and Strongs are saying the same thing as Zodhiates

            1. Did you not notice the theological statements in their definition? Those are not linguistical statements– their definition assumes eternal, conscious torment. They even admit it– “implied misery in hell”. They are importing a theological attachment to a word that isn’t a theological word– it’s the word for “death” in Greek antiquity.

              1. That does not mean its wrong. Can you point me to one Lexicon on the Scripture that says death means annihilation, cease to exist?
                Even a dead body does not cease to exist.

  33. This is why I’m confused by annihilationism (I’ve no dog in the hunt, so to speak, but am merely thinking about the problems with various views on this subject), is that, we can assume, that after death, you’ll see everything clearly. That is, you wouldn’t be on Earth anymore, and no longer see, “thru a glass, darkly”. Why would one NOT repent at that point?

    1. I think most would. Why I remain an annihilationist is because scripture does frequently talk about some who face a second death, and I don’t see any way around it. I certainly think most would repent after death, the only problem is that scripture doesn’t say that opportunity will exist, so one can only hope for it.

      1. It also doesn’t say there’s not a chance for repentance after death. As a matter of fact, there’s precidence for it when Jesus preached to the “captives” after his crucifixion. Now, we can debate what that really means, but something happened after these people died.

        1. No precedence at all, the captives were in sheol where the righteous went to await for Jesus to be sacrificed and open the gates of heaven, and unrighteous went after death to await their final judgement.

            1. If you grow up you will also realize that scripture does not leave room for repentance after death.

      2. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
        19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
        20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

      3. Scripture also talks about a second birth. Further, death is strongly associated with new life; “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit”. I think that just as there are two births – a natural and a spiritual – there are two deaths we must all pass through. Those of us who walk the way of the cross pass through the second death willingly, supported and encouraged by Jesus and all the witnesses of heaven. Those who do not must pass through the second death by having their eyes opened and all they had put their trust in destroyed.

      4. Having not even died once, those espousing such thoughts would be merely offering extremist speculations. Except no Christian wants to admit that their beliefs are directly on par with a belief in receiving 72 virgins after death. We have a long, soul-searching way to go in this area.

  34. Very interesting and informative. I have always argued that to truly understand the Bible, one must look at the historical context. Thank you.

    1. Except no one ever truly understand the Bible. It is only accessible for interpretation, not authoritative proclamation. It’s a mix of literal & figurative and NO ONE offers a sound method to discern between the two. Every person’s faith hinges on choosing what to believe, not on knowing that the belief is backed by fact.

      1. Did I say it was based on fact? To interpret any work of literature everything needs to be looked at. I know the Bible is a mix of literal and figurative language along with allegories and parables. I was commenting that Corey was making a good point. There are parts of the Bible that can be understood with the help of historical context and linguistic knowledge i.e. what the words meant at the time and a good translation from the original language.

  35. Perhaps you’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but allow me to point out that these narratives were written well after the Roman siege of Jerusalem.

  36. Benjamin Corey, could you explain to me how you would understand Lk 12:4-5

    >“I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into [Gehenna]; yes, I tell you, fear Him!

    Here we havev the contrast:

    1. People can kill the body, but can’t do anything more.
    2. God can kill the body, but he can also throw people into Gehenna.

    If “throwing into Gehenna” just means throwing the corpses into a valley outside Jerusalem, then this makes no sense, because people can easily do that (and according to you, they did!)

    But the contrast perfect sense if Gehenna refers to some sort of eschatological place of punishment.

    1. I don’t think it only means a literal throwing into Gehenna, which is why I said I leave it open for symbolism and dual fulfillment. I certainly think there were additional connotations of judgement, etc. The Luke passage I dealt with earlier in the series pointing to the fact that it talks about death, not eternal torment.

    2. One thing to note though is that this passage and the corresponding one in Matthew 10:28 the object isn’t second person singular / plural (at least not in the translations). It’s natural to read the verses as though Jesus is saying:

      “If you don’t preach the Gospel when faced with persecution then God might throw you into Gehenna, that’s worse than just being killed.”

      But given the grammar, it could mean that we should be afraid of God because the people who threaten us because of the Gospel, are heading for Gehenna.

      In which case, again the reference is to the same judgemental snake-like religious leaders as earlier. The kinds of people who are apt to condemn others for their failure to live up to 600+ religious laws, are the people for whom Jesus primarily directs his warnings about Gehenna. [cf God will judge us as we judge others].

  37. Something to keep in mind is that Jesus was also talking about religious purity and breaching that boundary. The tradition of keeping someone out of the gates of the Temple or out of the gates of the city was something carried long into the early church. This was for them to repent of certain sins through askesis before being allowed back in. This was carried through the eastern church. Much like the Prodigal son who hits “bottom” among swine (the purity reference is obvious – he was as unclean as unclean can be), the image of Gehenna as a place of death and decay carries even more weight regarding the religious ritual of the time. Jesus was deeply religious and rooted in the practices of Judaism which is why we find him in the temple in Luke’s Gospel and his story is about him coming back to the Temple to restore it rather than destroy it. Yes, it is a literal place. No, the reference in the language was not to be taken literally. This is about the ultimate distance from God which is death. This is indeed how the early church understood hell.

  38. If I remember right, most of the time when Jesus (or whoever wrote the Bible) talked about Hell, he opened with “Verily I say unto you” (Ancient Hebrew for “Word” or “No lie”. Most of his parables also used this intro. This leads me to believe that references to Hell were to be taken as parables, not reality.

    1. Good thing God provided clear ways to discern between what we should take literally and what we should take figuratively…

      Since the Bible didn’t tell you that, don’t put much stake in it. It’s simply a human assumption.

  39. In editing a volume for Pickwick one of the essays touched on hell and mentioned this idea of Gehenna and the garbage dump. However, further research revealed that “despite the prevalence of this belief, scholars like George Beasley-Murray have noted that ‘the notion, still referred to by some commentators, that the city’s rubbish was burned in this valley, has no further basis than a statement by the Jewish scholar Kimchi made about A.D. 1200; it is not attested in any ancient source.'”

    1. He would be incorrect. We have biblical mentions of bodies being burned here all the way back in Jeremiah, and the Jewish historian Josephus talks of the bodies taken here after the siege of Jerusalem. See, Jos. War 5.12.3

      1. “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 Archeologist 49 [1986]: 189. (p. 328n.17)

        1. I think the word in Psalms was sheol, not gehenna. Sheol just means grave and was used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures to mean grave.

      2. Reading Jos War 5.12.3 I just see a reference to the besieged people throwing bodies “from the walls into the valleys beneath” the walls.

        I don’t see anything there about the valley of Hinnom specifically, the bodies are thrown into “the valleys” (plural!).

        And they aren’t talking about bodies being taken there after the siege, but people just throwing the bodies of the city walls during the siege.

        And do we have mentions of bodies being burnt there in a garbage dump in Jeremiah?

        1. In a country like Judaea, any material capable of sustaining a fire would not be garbage, it would be valuable fuel.

      3. No he doesn’t. Don’t lie – he simply says ἐρριπτον ἐις τας φαραγγας – they threw them into “the valleys”. No specific mention of which valley. Furthermore, the bodies weren’t taken there – when they couldn’t bury the bodies and the stench was too great they threw them from the walls into the valleys. They didn’t burn them either; the city was still under siege. The next passage even mentions their rotting corpses leaking all over the place.

  40. Another interesting thing about Gehenna is that the refuse and bodies were sent there to be burned (destroyed), not tormented.

    Thanks for this Ben.

    As an evangelical I find your posts challenging in all the right ways. I particularly enjoy these last two posts regarding Hell. I have two friends going through seminary and some of the theological conversations that have come up have been intriguing. I had never given a lot of thought about hell other then what I (thought) I knew about it. Whenever I did, the puzzle of doctrine never seemed to come together. Every time I’d get one piece to fit (God’s Justice), another would fall out (God’s Mercy).

    You’ve actually switched out a piece of the puzzle that didn’t even belong. After doing so, not surprisingly, a bunch of pieces fell into place.

    Keep it up!

  41. useful information, bad conclusion.
    used so many metaphors, why should we look at this as an exception?
    Just to be another “annihilationist with the hope there will be
    opportunities for the unjust to come to postmortem repentance, and be
    reconciled to God through Christ”?

    Not only this thing cannot be, but it cannot be drawn as result from the data presented.

    1. Guest, men of the first century Judea, Jesus included all spoke in metaphor. Its just how they spoke. Keep in mind the idea of hell was likely brought about as a method of scaring people into the Kingdom. Sad to think that we need to scare people into doing anything when more often than not you hear the phrase “fear not dozens if not hundreds of times in scripture.

    2. Right. Metaphor. Not literal. But only special people with special knowledge now know which is literal and which is metaphor…


  42. Benjamin. I enjoyed reading what you wrote and there is much I do find I agree with you on, but here is some further thoughts on understanding ‘gehenna.’

    The difficulty of assigning Jesus usage of ‘gehenna’ primarily as a reference to the literal place, rather than a designation that uses the literal place as a symbol, is that he uses it many times in a way that does not readily fit with such a literal designation. Matthew 10:28 is most salient, as he attributes God destroying “body and soul in gehenna,’ which clearly is a reference to activity that goes beyond simply the physical location in the Valley of Hinnon. He also talks about the converts of the Pharisees who are “twice a child of hell” (Matthew 23:15).

    To add, later Jewish belief saw that gehenna was the place for God’s final judgment would take place (According to the BDAG lexicon). This belief is more than simply a burning of the body that occurred in the physical location, but that something more would happen as gehenna. It is plausible that the very things that occurred in the Valley of Hinnon conveyed a sense of humiliation, degradation, contempt, and uncleanliness that they associated it with the place that God would reject evildoers in the final judgment. Given the dead bodies there, it is very conceivable this placed conveyed such a rejection to a intensively unclean (a great Jewish fear) and perpetually destructive place (everlasting fire). While we can not be 100% sure that Jesus was influenced by the same ideas regarding ‘gehenna’ as later Jewish belief, the additional fact that he clearly speaks of it in a way that evokes a meaning beyond simply the physical burning of bodies does lend validity that ‘gehenna’ could have other connotations, most particularly of God’s definitive judgment.

    So, it is true to say that ‘gehenna’ is not consistent with our popular understandings of ‘hell,’ but I do think we should avoid overcorrecting by ‘literalizing’ the usage of gehenna (with only making room for ‘dual fulfillments’) and miss the strong, symbolic (and eschatological) significance that place had taken when Jesus spoke of it. This still fits with much of what you said elsewhere and can still work with annihilationism, but we also see Jesus language being a directly intended as a reference to a particular, final judgment of the whole person’s life (body and soul), not just a description of physical death or simply the destruction event of Jerusalem in 70 AD. (To borrow a couple metaphors that Paul uses but in a different context, these events may be the “pledge” and ‘first fruits’ of the full judgment, but ‘gehenna’ refers to something even more final.)

    1. Right, because if anything, we shouldn’t advocate for literal truth in the Bible. Oh wait…

      I guess one agrees with what one likes when it’s ideologically convenient.

    2. Thank you, OwenW.Frankly your exposition makes WAAY better sense than Benjamin’s; I myself have NO doubt Jesus’ iillustration using Gehenna points to a deeper warning concerning the world to come; it’s certainly not limited to pseudo – theological speculation in ANY language!

  43. I have never before been so challenged in what I believe than I have been reading your blog. Between this series on hell and your views on Revelation my head is spinning! I have to say that the psycho apocalyptic end times stuff I grew up with never sat well with me, but I had never heard any other view point so I didn’t know there were other options. As for hell…I had no idea there were three view point on that either! Why isn’t this stuff taught in churches? Why aren’t pastors laying it all out for people no matter what they believe personally? I am so grateful that you take the time to express your thoughts and beliefs about scripture and why you have come to the conclusions that you have, because it has opened up so many new ideas for me. Thank you!

    1. The thing is, a church service is not a school of religion, or a referendum.0 There isn’t all that much room for a discussion of many viewpoints there; it’s generally structured as one cleric/minister leading in his or her view. That’s not to be a negative; it is what it is, and s/he’s only one person, after all.

      I think the problem comes from people relying solely on their chosen church, or perhaps their particular denomination, for their theological views; when their social circle is composed primarily of those same people, that compounds it.

      In this way, it’s similar to American politics; we each have our chosen party/movement/causes, and fill up our social calendar, our Facebook, our twitter, with the people who more or less agree with us, and tend to dismiss those who think something else. It’s a kind of mental/spiritual entropy, and it can take significant effort to resist, especially at first.

      1. Captain, you are completely right. Many pastors I know encourage their congregations to read the Bible for themselves, study for themselves, ask questions etc. But that’s more research than most people are willing to do; it’s too time consuming. This is why most people have secondhand beliefs (religious and political). It’s is absolutely ridiculous for one to expect a preacher to do all of the work for them in an hour-long church service on Sunday morning.


        Also, if you take articles like this as fact without doing your own research then you’ve still missed the point. Just because it’s something you haven’t heard before doesn’t make it a revolutionary truth. Ask questions. Don’t just take anyone’s word for it.

        I am a lover of linguistics and history but my purpose is to chase Christ and become more Christ-like in this life, the rest will figure itself out. Articles like this are interesting and maybe even intriguing but I’m not “mind-blown.” Rather, these nuggets of information add certain textures to my faith.

    2. Kudos for being open minded and allowing your beliefs to be challenged. Wherever you end up on your journey of spiritual beliefs know you at least questioned and did not blindly follow. This will make what you believe truest for you and strong.

  44. Benjamin, I appreciate the effort that you’re putting into writing this series. You’ve made me think about a few things that I might not have otherwise thought about. Thanks for pushing me out of my comfort zone here.

      1. Apparently Frank can’t be bothered to waste his” pearls of wisdom” on we worthless heretics. If he can’t offer his drive-by shots in 10 words or less, he won’t bother.

        1. Oh, I doubt that. You seem to be one of those “Christians” for whom belief in hell is much more important than belief in heaven because it reassures you that everyone who disagreed with you on any point will be punished eternally for it.

  45. Help me understand why you make this conclusion “However, I still affirm that his warnings of hell also have implications for the afterlife” after understanding it as a literal place? I think I’ve missed something. Not arguing your conclusions, I just feel like we went from A-Z without a piece of crucial logic.

    1. It is because of other passages– in Matthew 25, he warns that some will end up on the wrong side of the judgement, and we see a return of fire symbolism in Revelation (the lake of fire), etc, which is clearly linked to the afterlife. The fact that it was a literal place would not negate other verses that talk about eternal judgement. What it does do, however, is really change how we see that– frees us from the evangelical version of hell to begin to ask a different set of questions.

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