In my last blog we looked at the Great White Throne Judgment and saw the difference between Hades and the Lake of Fire (Hell). To briefly review, every unbeliever dies and goes to Hades/Sheol, the place of torment where the Rich Man went. There they await the Great White Throne where they are judged and cast alive into the Lake of Fire. This takes place after the Millennial Kingdom and before Eternity begins.
Now there’s one more term that needs addressing and that’s Gehenna (geenna, Strong’s G1067). The English word comes from the Aramaic Gehena, which is equivalent to the Hebrew “Ge bene Hinnom” or literally “Valley of Hinnom” a geographical site in Jerusalem known as one of the two principal valleys surrounding the Old City of Jerusalem. The filth and dead animals of the city were cast there and burned, making it a fitting symbol of the wicked and their future punishment; therefore, Gehenna is a metaphor for Hell in the NT; a symbol for the burning fires of Hell.
Originally the Valley of Hinnom was where the followers of Baal sacrificed their children by fire to the pagan god Molech in the days of Ahaz and Manasseh (2 Kings 16:3, 21:6; 2 Chronicles 28:3, 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31, 19:2-6). Toph is the Hebrew word for drum. Tophet is another name for the Valley of Hinnom, because drums were beaten to drown out the cries of the children being sacrificed.
Jeremiah 7:32 and 19:6 contain prophecies that the valley would become a place of punishment by God:
- Jer 7:32 “Therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “when it will no more be called Tophet, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Tophet until there is no room.
- Jer 19:6 therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “that this place shall no more be called Tophet or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.
Gehenna is different than Hades in that it’s only for the unrighteous and it doesn’t describe a place of temporary residence, but the eternal abode of the unrighteous.
In the KJV, NIV and RSV geenna or Gehenna is always translated as Hell. The KJV is the only English translation in modern use to translate Sheol, Hades and Gehenna as Hell. The NIV, NLT and NASB among others all reserve Hell only for when Gehenna is used.
In the synoptic gospels Jesus used the word Gehenna 11 times in reference to the fate of those who do not enter His Kingdom:
- 1. Matt 5:22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of Hell fire.
- Matt 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into Hell.
- 3. Matt 5:30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into Hell.
- 4. Matt 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell.
- 5. Matt 18:9 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into Hell fire.
- Matt 23:15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of Hell as yourselves.
- Matthew 23:33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of Hell?
- Mark 9:43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to Hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—
- Mark 9:45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into Hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—
- Mark 9:47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into Hell fire—
- Luke 12:5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into Hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!
The only other place Gehenna is used in the NT is James 3:6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by Hell.
In my next blog we’re going to begin tying all this together, discussing where believers and unbelievers in the Old and New Testament times went when they died.