The Valley of Hinnom, Public Domain Source: Wikipedia
In my opinion, Jesus did not teach the doctrine of eternal torment in Hell.
With roots in post Babylonian Jewish thought and Greek mythology, these influences resulted in the development of a doctrine without scriptural support. Astonishingly, woven into the tapestry of Christianity over the centuries, it became a means of control and extortion.
Writers, for example, Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) the author of Inferno, and the English poet John Milton (1608-1674) the author of Paradise Lost, were also contributing factors. Artists including Michelangelo and Hieronymus Bosch provided dramatic approbation and credibility.
I will attempt to explain why I reject this doctrine.
Lost in Translation
Mat 23:33 KJV Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
Mat 23:33 YLT ‘Serpents! brood of vipers! how may ye escape from the judgment of the gehenna?
Jesus preached the ‘judgement of gehenna’ and the ‘fire of gehenna’ to Old Covenant Israel as a warning of imminent national judgement. The fulfilment of His prophecy was ‘the great and dreadful day of the Lord’ in AD 70.
The Greek ‘gehenna’ referred to the valley of the son of Hinnom. This vicinity was used by Old Covenant Israel during times of idolatry, which included the sacrificial burning of children. It later became Jerusalem’s garbage dump. Perpetual fire burned to consume rubbish and the dead bodies of criminals.
When Jesus warned His generation of impending judgement, He used ‘gehenna’ to drive home the severity of the punishment that awaited those who were unwilling to repent.
The translation of the Scriptures from Greek into English added to the misconception when ‘gehenna’ was translated ‘hell’, with its pagan connotations.
A Quote from Thayer’s Greek Definitions
‘G1067 γέεννα geenna 1) Hell is the place of the future punishment called “Gehenna” or “Gehenna of fire”. This was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction.’
‘gehenna’ appears 12 times in the New Testament. The KJV translated ‘gehenna’ as ‘hell’ on every occasion. However, Robert Young never used ‘hell’ in his highly acclaimed literal translation.
Surprisingly, ‘gehenna’ appears 11 times in the Gospels, but only once in the remainder of the New Testament.
Peter, John, and Paul never mentioned ‘gehenna’ in their writings!
The Fire of Gehenna
The Jews were familiar with the significance of ‘gehenna’ in Christ’s preaching, due to its association with horror and suffering.
It was with good reason the valley of the son of Hinnom became known as ‘the valley of slaughter’, having been filled with the blood of innocents.
King Ahaz and the Fire of Gehenna
2Ch 28:3 KJV Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel.
King Ahaz was 20 years old when he became king of Judah, and reigned for 16 years (744-728 BC). He was an evil king who led his people into pagan worship. Idolatrous Ahaz ‘burnt his children in the fire’, as did King Manasseh and King Amon… 2 Chronicles 33:6; 2 Chronicles 33:22
King Josiah and the Fire of Gehenna
2Ki 23:10 KJV And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech.
Josiah (648-609 BC) the son of Amon became king of Judah when he was eight years old and reigned for 31 years. He was a good king and introduced many reforms, including the renovation of the Temple. Josiah removed the worship of Molech in Topheth during his purification of the land.
A Quote from Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary
2 Kings 23:10 ‘Topheth so called from Toph – a ‘drum.’ It is the prevailing opinion among Jewish writers that the cries of the terrified children made to pass through the fire in that place of idolatrous horror were drowned by the sound of that instrument.’
Jeremiah and the Fire of Gehenna
Jer 19:2-6 KJV And go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the east gate, and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee, 3 And say, Hear ye the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, the which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle. 4 Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents; 5 They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind: 6 Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter.
Jeremiah called to the office of prophet c 626 BC; lived during the reign of Josiah. The Lord told him to go to the valley of the son of Hinnom and prophesy judgement on Israel.
The Jews came to know Hinnom as a place of punishment and burning.
When Jesus preached the ‘fire of gehenna’, He warned of impending judgement at the end of the Old Covenant Age, not the end of time or the end of the world.
The Unquenchable Fire
‘Unquenchable fire’ was uncontrollable fire that caused utter destruction not everlasting fire. There are examples in the Scriptures of fire that ‘shall not be quenched’, but ceased when God’s purpose was fulfilled.
Isaiah and the Unquenchable Fire
Isa 34:9-10 KJV And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. 10 It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.
Isaiah used figurative, prophetic language when he prophesied God’s judgement with fire and brimstone on Edom. Although Isaiah said it shall ‘not be quenched’ it is not still burning today, it finally quenched when God’s purpose was accomplished.
Ezekiel and Unquenchable Fire
Ezekiel used prophetic language when he prophesied national judgement on Judah. The Babylonians fulfilled his prophecy by the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC; Jerusalem has not been burning since 586 BC!
From their prior knowledge of the Scriptures, something we are inclined to underestimate, Jesus’ audience would have understood that He referred to national judgement. The concept of eternal torment in Hell would not have entered their minds.
John the Baptist issued warnings of impending destruction, and used the same prophetic figurative speech as the other Old Testament prophets… Matthew 3:12 The fulfilment of John’s prophecy was in AD 70, the ‘unquenchable fire’ is not still burning today.
The Worm Dieth Not
Isa 66:22-24 KJV For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain. 23 And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD. 24 And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.
Isaiah prophesied the establishment of the ‘the new heavens and the new earth’, the New Covenant Age. The fulfilment of this prophecy took place when the Old Covenant Age passed away in AD 70.
Mar 9:44 KJV Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
When Jesus spoke of the undying worm and unquenchable fire, He quoted from Isaiah. The worm would thrive and hasten the corruption of the dead, the phrase metaphorically emphasised the shame and disgrace of the deceased.
The ‘worm dieth not’ should not be taken literally.
The first mention of ‘gehenna’ was during the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus came to the Jew first and preached the Kingdom of God was at hand. He graphically described the ‘gehenna of fire’; His audience would have recalled the horrific stories recorded in the Old Testament.
Only through repentance could they avoid the fiery national judgement at the hands of the Romans.
The Gehenna Timeline
Mat 23:36 KJV Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
Jesus actually stated the time of ‘the judgement of the gehenna’.
Mat 24:34 YLT Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
It is not difficult to understand when taking into account audience relevance that Jesus was admonishing His generation. His warning is inconsequential to a generation 2000 years in the future.
Old Covenant Israel finally ended in AD 70, God’s remnant escaped to Pella and lived to enter into the New Covenant Age; the spiritual Kingdom of God… Matthew 24:16
Josephus recorded that a multitude of dead bodies filled the valley of Hinnom following the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.
‘Now the seditious at first gave orders that the dead should be buried out of the public treasury, as not enduring the stench of their dead bodies. But afterwards, when they could not do that, they had them cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath.’ — Josephus
Consider the following:
If Hell is a place of eternal torment and the final destiny of those who remain ‘in Adam’ rather than ‘in Christ’, why did God not make it clear to Adam from the beginning?
God told Adam the penalty for eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was that he would die… Genesis 2:17 At what time did He add eternal torment in Hell?
If Paul declared all the counsel of God… Acts 20:27 How could he make such a claim since he never mentioned Gehenna or eternal torment in Hell?
So what will become of the lost and unrepentant? In my opinion, the Scriptures are silent. However, I do know it is far better to be ‘in Christ’ with the assurance of everlasting life, and to enjoy the blessings of fellowship with our Heavenly Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, than to dwell in darkness and carry the burden of accountability with fear and uncertainty.
I endeavour to speak only when the Scriptures speak, and remain silent when the Scriptures remain silent. In my opinion, the Scriptures do not fully reveal the fate of the lost.
‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’… Genesis 18:25
What do you think?