Important Facts

1. Gehenna was a well-known locality near Jerusalem, and ought no more to be translated Hell, than should Sodom or Gomorrah. See Josh. 15: 8; 2 Kings 17: 10; 2 Chron. 28: 3; Jer. 7: 31, 32; 19: 2.

2. Gehenna is never employed in the Old Testament to mean anything else than the place with which every Jew was familiar.

3. The word should have been left untranslated as it is in some versions, and it would not be misunderstood. It was not misunderstood by the Jews to whom Jesus addressed it. Walter Balfour well says: "What meaning would the Jews who were familiar with this word, and knew it to signify the valley of Hinnom, be likely to attach to it when they heard it used by our Lord? Would they, contrary to all former usage, transfer its meaning from a place with whose locality and history they had been familiar from their infancy, to a place of misery in another world? This conclusion is certainly inadmissible. By what rule of interpretation, then, can we arrive at the conclusion that this word means a place of misery and death?"

4. The French Bible, the Emphatic Diaglott, Improved Version, Wakefield's Translation and Newcomb's retain the proper noun, Gehenna, the name of a place as well-known as Babylon.

5. Gehenna is never mentioned in the Apocrypha as a place of future punishment as it would have been had such been its meaning before and at the time of Christ.

6. No Jewish writer, such as Josephus or Philo, ever uses it as the name of a place of future punishment, as they would have done had such then been its meaning.

7. No classic Greek author ever alludes to it and therefore it was a Jewish locality, purely.

8. The first Jewish writer who ever names it as a place of future punishment is Jonathan Ben Uzziel who wrote, according to various authorities, from the second to the eighth century, A.D.

9. The first Christian writer who calls Hell Gehenna is Justin Martyr who wrote about A. D. 150.

10. Neither Christ nor his apostles ever named it to Gentiles, but only to Jews which proves it a locality only known to Jews, whereas, if it were a place of punishment after death for sinners, it would have been preached to Gentiles as well as Jews.

11. It was only referred to twelve times on eight occasions in all the ministry of Christ and the apostles, and in the Gospels and Epistles. Were they faithful to their mission to say no more than this on so vital a theme as an endless Hell, if they intended to teach it?

12. Only Jesus and James ever named it. Neither Paul, John, Peter nor Jude ever employ it. Would they not have warned sinners concerning it, if there were a Gehenna of torment after death?

13. Paul says he "shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God," and yet though he was the great preacher of the Gospel to the Gentiles he never told them that Gehenna is a place of after-death punishment. Would he not have repeatedly warned sinners against it were there such a place?

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Dr. Thayer significantly remarks: "The Savior and James are the only persons in all the New Testament who use the word. John Baptist, who preached to the most wicked of men did not use it once. Paul wrote fourteen epistles and yet never once mentions it. Peter does not name it, nor Jude; and John, who wrote the gospel, three epistles, and the Book of Revelations, never employs it in a single instance. Now if Gehenna or Hell really reveals the terrible fact of endless woe, how can we account for this strange silence? How is it possible, if they knew its meaning and believed it a part of Christ's teaching that they should not have used it a hundred or a thousand times, instead of never using it at all; especially when we consider the infinite interests involved? The Book of Acts contains the record of the apostolic preaching,and the history of the first planting of the church among the Jews and Gentiles, and embraces a period of thirty years from the ascension of Christ. In all this history, in all this preaching of the disciples and apostles of Jesus there is no mention of Gehenna. In thirty years of missionary effort these men of God, addressing people of all characters and nations never under any circumstances threaten them with the torments of Gehenna or allude to it in the most distant manner! In the face of such a fact as this can any man believe that Gehenna signifies endless punishment and that this is part of divine revelation, a part of the Gospel message to the world? These considerations show how impossible it is to establish the doctrine in review on the word Gehenna. All the facts are against the supposition that the term was used by Christ or his disciples in the sense of endless punishment. There is not the least hint of any such meaning attached to it, nor the slightest preparatory notice that any such new revelation was to be looked for in this old familiar word."

14. Jesus never uttered it to unbelieving Jews, nor to anybody but his disciples, but twice (Matt. 23: 15-33) during his entire ministry, nor but four times in all. If it were the final abode of unhappy millions, would not his warnings abound with exhortations to avoid it?

15. Jesus never warned unbelievers against it but once in all his ministry (Matt. 23: 33) and he immediately explained it as about to come in this life.

16. If Gehenna is the name of Hell then men's bodies are burned there as well as their souls. Matt. 5: 29; 18: 9.

17. If it be the name of endless torment, then literal fire is the sinner's punishment. Mark 9: 43-48.

18. Salvation is never said to be from Gehenna.

19. Gehenna is never said to be of endless duration nor spoken of as destined to last forever, so that even admitting the popular ideas of its existence after death it gives no support to the idea of endless torment.

20. Clement, a Universalist, used Gehenna to describe his ideas of punishment. He was one of the earliest of the Christian Fathers. The word did not then denote endless punishment.

21. A shameful death or severe punishment in this life was at the time of Christ denominated Gehenna (Schleusner, Canon Farrar and others), and there is no evidence that Gehenna meant anything else at the time of Christ.

With these preliminaries let us consider the twelve passages in which the word occurs.

"But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raea, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of Hell-fire." Matt. 5: 22. The purpose of Jesus here was to show how exacting is Christianity. It judges the motives. This he affirms in the last sentence of the verse, after referring to the legal penalties of Judaism in the first two. The "judgment" here is the lower ecclesiastical court of twenty-three judges: the "council" is the higher court, which could condemn to death. But Christianity is so exacting, that if one is contemptuous towards another, he will be adjudged by Christian principles guilty of the worst crimes, as "he who hates his brother has already committed murder in his heart." We can give the true meaning of this passage in the words of "orthodox" commentators.

Wynne correctly says: "This alludes to the three degrees of punishment among the Jews, viz., civil punishment inflicted by the judges or elders at the gates; excommunication pronounced by the great Ecclesiastical Council or Sanhedrim; and burning to death, like those who were sacrificed to devils in the valley of Hinnom or Tophet, where the idolatrous Israelites used to offer their children to Moloch." Note in loc. Dr. Adam Clarke says: "It is very probable that our Lord means no more here than this: 'If a man charge another with apostasy from the Jewish religion, or rebellion against God, and cannot prove his charge, then he is exposed to that punishment (burning alive) which the other must have suffered, if the charges had been substantiated. There are three offenses here which exceed each other in their degrees of guilt. 1. Anger against a man, accompanied with some injurious act. 2. Contempt, expressed by the opprobrious epithet raea, or shallow brains. 3. Hatred and mortal enmity, expressed by the term morch, or apostate, where such apostasy could not be proved. Now proportioned to these three offenses were three different degrees of punishment, each exceeding the other in severity, as the offenses exceeded each other in their different degrees of guilt. 1. The judgment, the council of twenty-three, which could inflict the punishment of strangling. 2. The Sanhedrim, or great council, which could inflict the punishment of stoning. 3. The being burnt in the valley of the son of Hinnom. This appears to be the meaning of our Lord. Our Lord here alludes to the valley of the son of Hinnom. This place was near Jerusalem; and had been formerly used for these abominable sacrifices in which the idolatrous Jews had caused their children to pass through the fire to Moloch." Com. in loc.

We do not understand that a literal casting into Gehenna is here incul-cated-as Clarke and Wynne teach-but that the severest of all punishments are due those who are contemptuous to others. Gehenna fire is here figuratively and not literally used, but its torment is in this life.

Barnes: "In this verse it denotes a degree of suffering higher than the punishment inflicted by the court of seventy, the Sanhedrim. And the whole verse may therefore mean, He that hates his brother without a cause, is guilty of a violation of the sixth commandment, and shall be punished with a severity similar to that inflicted by the court of judgment. He that shall suffer his passions to transport him to still greater extravagances, and shall make him an object of derision and contempt, shall be exposed to still severer punishment, corresponding to that which the Sanhedrim, or council, inflicts. But he who shall load his brother with odious appellations and abusive language, shall incur the severest degree of punishment, represented by being burnt alive in the horrid and awful valley of Hinnom." (Com.)— A. A. Livermore, D. D., says: "Three degrees of anger are specified, and three corresponding gradations of punishment, proportioned to the different degrees of guilt. Where these punishments will be inflicted, he does not say, he need not say. The man, who indulges any wicked feelings against his brother man, is in this world punished; his anger is the torture of his soul and unless he repents of it and forsakes it, it must prove his woe in all future states of his being."

Whether Jesus here means the literal Gehenna, or makes these three degrees of punishment emblems of the severe spiritual penalties inflicted by Christianity, there is no reference to the future world in the language. "Unlike the teachings of Judaism, Jesus taught that it was not absolutely necessary to commit the overt act, to be guilty before God, but if a man wickedly gave way to temptation, and harbored vile passions and purposes, he was guilty before God and amenable to the divine law. He who hated his brother was a murderer. Jesus also taught that punishment under his rule was proportioned to criminality, as under the legal dispensation. He refers to three distinct modes of punishment recognized by Jewish regulations. Each one of these exceeded the other in severity. They were, first, strangling or beheading; second, stoning; and third, burning alive. The lower tribunal or court, referred to in the passage before us, by the term 'judgment,' was composed of twenty-three judges, or as some learned men think, of seven judges and two scribes. The higher tribunal, or 'council' was doubtless the Sanhedrim, the highest ecclesiastical and civil tribunal of the Jews, composed of seventy judges, whose prerogative it was to judge the greatest offenders of the law, and could even condemn the guilty to death. They were often condemned to Gehenna-fire or as it is translated Hell-fire. Jesus did not intend to say, that under the Christian dispensation, men should be brought before the different tribunals referred to in the text to be adjudicated but he designed to show that under the new economy of grace and truth man was still a subject of retributive justice, but was judged according to the motives of the heart. 'But I say unto you, whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment.' According to the Christian principle, man is guilty if he designs to do wrong." Livermore's "Proof Texts."

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