1. Sheol (OT)
   a. Below
   b. No Escape
   c. Dual Use
   d. Conclusion
2. Abaddon (OT and NT)
3. Hades (NT)
   a. Sheol and Hades
   b. Hades’ (Sheol’s) Structure
   c. Jesus’ Authority over Hades
   d. The Gates of Hades
   e. Exceptions
4. Tartarus (NT)
5. Paradise (NT)
6. The Change that the Cross brought about
7. The Resurrection of the Dead
8. Gehenna (NT)
   a. Etymology of Gehenna
   b. The History of the Valley of Hinnom
   c. God’s Rubbish Tip
   d. Jewish Interpretation
9. Teaching regarding ‘Gehenna’
   a. The Scriptures
   b. Who is taught about Gehenna?
   c. It is a place of Punishment
   d. Its existence and punishment are everlasting, eternal
   e. It was not brought into existence for Humanity
   f. There are more in Gehenna than there are in Heaven
   g. It is a place of continuing anger against God
   h. The reason for being sentenced to go there


I originally began this study to determine the Scriptural teaching concerning the subject of hell, but, having realised that a large amount of groundwork needed to be done before I could approach the subject, it necessitated studying the OT concept of Sheol (with a brief look at Abaddon) and, in the NT, Hades, Paradise and Tartarus.

My one aim, then, is to provide a Scripturally-backed foundation for faith. Much has been written and spoken concerning present-day concepts of hell so that we need to rediscover the Biblical parameters, hold onto these and reject any 'colouring in' of the gaps that we are tempted to add!

One apology - I have not dealt with the subject of Heaven/New Jerusalem/The final dwelling place of the saints. In one sense, you may feel that this makes this study incomplete - I agree. But the subject is such a vast one that the present length of these notes would, perhaps, at least have doubled had I decided to study it at length.

It would also have taken me outside the original intention of these notes.

1. Sheol (OT)

'Sheol' (Strongs Heb number 7585) is not an easy word to translate. The AV variously translates it as ‘grave', 'hell' or 'pit' whereas the RSV felt it best to transliterate it into English. It is used 65 times altogether in the OT.

Very simply, Sheol means 'The (dwelling) place of the dead' but to think that this must be the meaning of the Hebrew word in each and every occurrence of the word is not correct. It has a very wide range of figurative uses and shades of meaning that compel us to attach to it a meaning that suits the context in which it's used.

The translation 'hell' is inaccurate - Sheol is a present but temporary home for the dead whereas Hell is a future and an everlasting one as will be seen.

In order to try and sketch out a few of these different meanings, I have grouped certain passages together below under three separate headings:

a. Below

Sheol was thought of as being 'below' the earth upon which man stood:

Gen 37:35, 42:38, 44:29, 44:31, I Sam 2:6, I Kings 2:6, Job 7:9, 17:16, 21:13, Ps 30:3, 55:15, 88:3-4, Prov 1:12, 7:27, Is 14:11, 38:18, 57:9, Ezek 31:14-15, 32:21 - All these verses speak of going down to Sheol.

Deut 32:22, Job 11:8, Ps 49:14-15, 86:13, Prov 9:18, 15:24, Is 14:19, Amos 9:2 - And these verses use words that imply the same, namely Descend, Beneath, Depths, Deeper and Dig.

Never, throughout the entire OT, is it ever referred to in terms that could be interpreted as being above man's existence. In fact, Sheol was thought to be the lowest point of the universe, the point at which one can descend no further, just as Heaven is the point at which one can ascend no further:

Deut 32:22 ('a fire is kindled by my anger, and it burns to the depths of Sheol...' - Here figuratively used and meaning that the fire of God's anger burnt with unlimited depth)
Job 11:7-8 ('...Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is...deeper than Sheol...' - Again figuratively used and saying that God's limits go beyond all earthly bounds. Space cannot contain Him, He is much bigger than the created universe)
Amos 9:2 ('Though they dig into Sheol, from there shall My hand take them...' Again figuratively used and teaching that it is impossible to escape God)

b. No Escape

Once a human dies, there is no escape from Sheol - it becomes the dwelling place of all the dead:

II Sam 12:23 ('I shall go to him [David's child that had died], but he will not return to me')
Job 7:9 ('...he who goes down to Sheol does not come up’)
Job10:21-22 ('...before I go whence I shall not return, to the land of gloom and deep darkness...')
Ps 89:48 ('...Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?')

It is also bottomless and came to be used figuratively for being endless. A limitless compound for a race that is limitlessly dying:

Prov 27:20 ('Sheol...are never satisfied...')
Prov 30:16 ('Sheol...never says "Enough".')
Hab 2:5 ('[The arrogant man's] greed is as wide as Sheol, like death he never has enough')

However, prophetically, God's people saw the Day when He would break the power of death and retrieve His people from the depths of Sheol. Even though Sheol is the final word in this life, they received the revelation that, to God, it was not going to have the final say:

Job 19:25-26 ('and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God.' - There must be a bodily resurrection if Job is to be able to 'see' God from his 'flesh')
Ps 16:10 ('...Thou dost not give me up to Sheol or let Thy godly one see the pit...' - this originally taught that those who feared God would continually experience His presence with them, but prophetically it looked forward to The Godly One who is Jesus - Acts 2:27)
Ps 49:14-15 ('But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me' - notice that the verse talks of God 'receiving' which implies a reunification of the believer with His God after a taste of death. Also note that it is the soul that inhabits Sheol and not the body which shall waste away [v.14])
Is 26:19 ('The dead shall live, their bodies shall arise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!')
Hosea 13:14 ('I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol, I shall redeem them from death...')

c. Dual use

Sheol is a place away from God's presence, a place of spiritual death:

Ps 6:5 ('In death there is no remembrance of Thee; in Sheol who can give Thee praise?')
Ps 88:5 (' the slain that lie in the grave...for they are cut off from Thy hand')
Is 38:10-11 ('...I am consigned to the gates of Sheol for the rest of my years. I said "I shall not see the Lord in the land of the living"...' - the 'gates of Sheol' can be a present reality in which we do not experience the Lord's presence)
Is 38:18 ('...Sheol cannot thank Thee, death cannot praise Thee; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Thy faithfulness' - for God is not there to show His faithfulness)

Even though it is spoken of in this way, it must be remembered that God is still everywhere, even in Sheol (Ps 139:8 - 'If I make my bed in Sheol, Thou art there...') so that when we talk about God's presence not being there, we are thinking of the place where God has chosen not to reveal Himself, a place far away from Him, as far away from Him as Sheol is, figuratively speaking, from Heaven where He dwells.

God also knows all that is in Sheol, it is not beyond His knowledge (Job 26:6 - 'Sheol is naked before God...', Prov 15:11 - 'Sheol and Abaddon lie open before God...').

As Sheol was recognised as a place where the absence of God's presence could be felt, it was a term employed to speak of a believer's experience of being abandoned by God in this life:

II Sam 22:6 & Ps 18:4-5 ('...the cords of Sheol entangled me...')
Ps 30:3 ('...Thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the pit.')
Ps 86:13 ('Thou hast delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol...')
Ps 88:3-4 (' life draws near to Sheol. I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit...')
Ps 88:5 (previously quoted)
Ps 116:3 ('...the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me...')
Is 38:10-11 (previously quoted)

[NB - Sheol sometimes means simply 'death', but spiritual death can be inferred - ie separation away from God's presence. Prov 5:5, 9:18 and 23:14 all have this meaning. Prov 5:5 & 9:18 - The loose woman stalks a man's life to wrench him away from the moving of God's Spirit on this earth. Prov 23:14 - To fail to discipline your child will mean that he will be headed for a life that cannot possibly reflect God's presence into the world around him.]

Because of this concept of Sheol being a place where God's presence is absent, it is not surprising that it is a place of distress:

II Sam 22:6-7 ('...the cords of Sheol entangled my distress...')
Ps 116:3 (‘...the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.')
Jonah 2:2 ('I called to the Lord out of my distress...out of the belly of Sheol I cried...').
All these three verses apply Sheol figuratively to an experience in this life, but equate its characteristics, thus enabling us to ascertain what Sheol is like.

It is a place of darkness:

Job 10:21-22 ('...before I go whence I shall not return, to the land of gloom and deep darkness, the land of gloom and chaos, where light is as darkness.')
Ps 143:3 ('...made me sit in darkness like those long dead.')

It is a place unlike earth:

Eccles 9:10 ('...there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going' - Sheol is not a place where mankind can find tasks awaiting him to accomplish; it is not a 'second civilisation' where men go after life on earth.)

As such, it is the place to which the wicked are banished after death:

Job 24:19 ('Sheol [snatches away] those who have sinned...')
Ps 9:17 ('The wicked shall depart to Sheol, all the nations that forget God')
Ps 49:14 ('Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd; straight to the grave they descend, and their form shall waste away; Sheol shall be their home' The psalmist is referring to the wicked. He cannot mean that Sheol is a place of oblivion as he refers to it as being a 'home' - a home is not needed for something that has no existence)

And yet, it is also the place that the saints find themselves in, though not necessarily in suffering. Sheol can mean simply 'grave' without having to paint a picture of distress and anguish:

Gen 37:35, 42:38, 44:29, 44:31 (All these verses quote a believer as saying that their lot after death is Sheol.)
Job 10:21-22 (Job says of himself that his fate after death is to go to Sheol)

For this reason, and coupled with Jesus' teaching on this subject in the NT (notably the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Lk 16:19-31), many have seen that Sheol is apparently divided into a collection of those who were 'saints' and those who were 'wicked' (the non-saints), those who suffer exile away from God's presence.

How the NT speaks of these different compartments will be dealt with in the following sections, it is only important for us to observe here the distinction made.

d. Conclusion

Let us re-iterate the points set out above:

1. Sheol is a place located below man's existence, at the opposite end of the universe from Heaven, deeper than anything else known to man.

2. There is no escape from Sheol, all the dead find themselves sent there. But, the Lord's people in the OT knew that there would come a Day when God would break them free from death.

3. It is a place both where the wicked are punished and where the saints exist. As such, it seems to have had two specific divisions.

2. Abaddon (OT & NT)

Scriptures - Job 26:6, 28:22, 31:12, Ps 88:11, Prov 15:11, 27:20, Rev 9:11

Abaddon (Strongs Heb number 11 [and 10]), which comes from a Hebrew root meaning 'destroy'/'perish', is translated as 'destruction' in the AV. The RSV transliterates it, regarding it as a specific name.

Three times (Job 26:6, Prov 15:11, 27:20) Abaddon is linked with Sheol, the place of the dead, and once with death itself (Job 28:22).

Abaddon, therefore, probably meant 'the place of destruction' when used as a proper noun and not, simply, 'the grave', 'the place of the dead' or 'destruction’.

In the NT, Abaddon is personified and is used as the name of the angel of the bottomless pit (Strong's Gk number 3) meaning the 'angel of destruction' as seen by the authority that the angel has (Rev 9:7-10).

It is unlikely that this was the intended meaning in the OT.

3. Hades (NT)

'Hades’ (Strongs Gk number 86) is 'the place of departed souls' and is translated as 'grave' and 'hell' in the AV. It is used 10 times (Mtw 11:23, 16:18, Lk 10:15, 16:23, Acts 2:27, 2:31, I Cor 15:55 (AV only), Rev 1:18, 6:8, 20:13, 20:14).

Hades is not 'Hell' - like Sheol, Hades is a present reality but it is only temporary (II Peter 2:9), whereas Hell is both future and everlasting.

a. Sheol and Hades

I Cor 15:55 - 'O death, where is thy victory? O death (Hades), where is thy sting?' This is a direct quote from Hosea 13:14 where the second question begins 'O Sheol...'

[NB - The modern compilations of texts (I refer specifically to that of Nestle), have the Gk word Thanatos (Strong's Gk number 2288) for both occurrences in the RSV of the word 'death', which would be the correct translation]

Acts 2:27 likewise quotes an OT passage. Luke records Peter's words as 'For Thou wilt not abandon My soul to Hades' and the Heb Scripture, Ps 16:10, reads '...Thou dost not give me up to Sheol...'

Hades, therefore, is the Gk equivalent of the Heb word for Sheol and will carry with it a similar meaning. Kittels writes

'Used for the Heb Sheol, the realm of the dead, this term came to denote the place of temporary sojourn prior to resurrection’

Some of the conclusions we arrived at under the heading of Sheol can be seen in the way Hades is used in the NT:

1. Mtw 11:23 talks about being brought down to Hades, thus locating it below man's existence.

2. The etymology of the origin of Hades may well be from hado meaning ‘all-receiving’ which parallels Sheol's figurative use meaning ‘limitless’. However, most commentators teach that it is a compound word signifying 'that which is not seen’.
The all-inclusiveness of Hades is also seen in Rev 6:8 where it is written that the fourth horse is ‘...a pale horse, and its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him; and they were given kill...' When death comes, Hades is the next step for that person - it is inevitable, unavoidable.

3. It is a place where both the wicked and the righteous exist: Lk 16:23 speaks of the rich man who found himself in torment while Acts 2:31 speaks of Jesus who found Himself there after the crucifixion. Jesus, quite obviously, did not suffer there - His suffering was completed on the cross.

b. Hades’ (Sheol’s) Structure

Lk 16:19-31 is the passage that we refer to in order to see the 'structure' of Hades as laid out in the diagram below.

v.26 speaks of a 'great chasm' that had been set up between those who were suffering and those who were free from any pain of judgment. Hades is here divided into two, even though v.23 refers to Hades only in terms of torment.

We also include in the diagram the terms 'Tartarus' and 'Paradise' (for a description of which see the headings below) and 'Abraham's bosom' which is spoken of here in v.22 and is taken to be an alternative name for Paradise.

This is the structure of the place of departed souls before the cross, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, before it was changed temporarily until the great and terrible final judgment which will take place when the Lord returns (Rev 20:13-14).

c. Jesus’ Authority over Hades

In the OT it is written 'The Lord...brings down to Sheol and raises up' (I Sam 2:6) which is a reiteration of the first clause of the verse 'The Lord kills and brings to life...' The God of Israel, YHWH, is the God who appoints the time when men are to die.

In the NT, Rev 1:18 reads '...I [Jesus] have the keys of Death and Hades'. Jesus is the One who alone can unlock the place of the dead because He conquered death and all that it contained that is opposed to God.

Jesus demonstrated His authority when He was on this earth (as He does even today) by raising corpses from the dead.

d. The Gates of Hades

Mtw 16:18 records Jesus as saying '...I will build My Church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it'. In Is 38:10-11, the phrase 'the gates of Sheol' means 'death' - spiritual death.

So, here, Jesus is saying that a characteristic of His Church will be that it is spiritually alive. It is the test of a local church to see if it is representative of Jesus' purpose on earth - is it alive to the things of God, or doesn't it know Him and His ways?

e. Exceptions

We have shown consistently that the dwelling place of the dead throughout the OT and before the cross was ‘below’, but there are two notable Scriptures that remain exceptions to the vast majority of Scriptures.

II Kings 2:11-12 states that Elijah ‘...went up by a whirlwind into heaven’ and Genesis 5:21-24, although not talking about Enoch ‘ascending’ into heaven, could be interpreted as implying this because of the former passage quoted.

4. Tartarus (NT)

'Tartarus' (Strongs Gk number 5020) is used only once in the NT.

II Peter 2:4a - 'For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into Tartarus...'

This refers back to the incident in Gen 6:1-4. When a number of angels mated with mankind in ancient time (which seems to be the best interpretation of 'the sons of God'), God stepped in and judged their actions by confining the offenders to 'Tartarus'. It is a part of Hades, therefore, and not an entity in its own right.

Tartarus will, like the rest of Hades, give up its captives (Rev 20:13) to be judged on the final Day (Jude 6, II Peter 2:4b).

Rev 20:1-3 speaks of the devil/satan being bound and thrown into the 'bottomless pit'/'abyss'. This is probably also a reference to Tartarus - the word 'bottomless' conjures up the image of Sheol/Hades being limitless (Prov 30:16, Hab 2:5), always having room to take more dead, so that this interpretation is well within Biblical teaching.

As to timing, all that can be said is that it takes place before the final judgment, before the dissolution/destruction of Death/Hades (which occurs in 20:14).

Note also Lk 8:31 where the demons beg Jesus not to send them to the abyss. This is probably another reference to Tartarus.

5. Paradise (NT)

Paradise (Strongs Gk number 3857) is a term that is only used three times in the NT (Lk 23:43, II Cor 12:3-4, Rev 2:7). It was adopted by Jewish commentators to describe the 'garden' of Eden in Gen 2-3, and was also used as the name of the present home of the righteous who have died.

So little is written about Paradise before the cross that it is difficult to adequately describe it.

Paradise, according to the definition above, is spoken of within the OT concept of Sheol as being the place where the righteous go upon death (Gen 37:35, 42:38, 44:29, 44:31, Job 10:21-22 - see 'Sheol' above), but in the NT in Lk 16:19-31 we see a distinct compartment of Sheol/Hades where the righteous exist, separated totally from the wicked who undergo punishment. As Sheol/Hades is 'below' man’s existence on earth, then so too is Paradise.

(NB - Cp Mtw 12:40 with Lk 23:43. Matthew talks of Jesus being 'three days and three nights in the heart of the earth' while Luke tells us that the name of the place that Jesus went was Paradise. This locates it below the earth).

Jesus descended into Paradise after His work on the cross was accomplished, hence the relevance of His words to the crucified thief ' you will be with Me in Paradise' (Lk 23:43). The thief's faith saved him from the torment of Hades - instead, he experienced God's forgiveness and his installation into the Paradise of God.

The Scriptures do not say that Paradise before the resurrection is a place of reward, but they do show that it is not a place of punishment. However, the set up of the place of the dead/Sheol/Hades drastically changed at the time of the resurrection and ascension and it is this that we must now turn our attention to before going on to look at the subject of 'Gehenna'.

6. The Change that the Cross brought about

We have, so far, seen that the OT Sheol and the NT Hades are parallel words which describe the place of departed souls (their bodies disintegrating back into dust).

The term Tartarus refers to a place within Sheol/Hades where certain angels have been consigned awaiting judgment and Paradise/Abraham's bosom, also located within Sheol/Hades, are the terms used to describe the place where God's people dwell and in which there is no punishment or pain.

The dwelling place of the 'unrighteous' has no special title other than the all-inclusive Sheol/Hades, but it's a place of punishment from which there is no escape (Heb 9:27). All these places are below man's existence and this set up continued throughout the time of the OT until the cross, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

Having understood that Paradise is below, we should notice that II Cor 12:3-4 teaches that (after the cross) Paradise is now located ‘above’ - '...I know that this man was caught up into Paradise...

Also, Jesus, who is in Heaven seated at the right-hand of the Father on high (ie above - Heb 3:3) is said to be with believers after they die. Phil 1:23 - 'My desire is to depart and to be with Christ...', II Cor 5:8 - '...we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord'.

These Scriptures point us to the conclusion that something took place in the set up of Sheol/Hades when Jesus died, rose and ascended.

Eph 4:8-10 - 'When [Jesus] ascended on high He led a host of captives [or 'He led captivity captive']. The context of v.9-10 shows us that upon His death, Jesus descended into Hades (specifically 'Paradise') and proclaimed there the freedom that His death had won to the righteous who were awaiting it (I Peter 4:18-20?).

It was their captivity to death that He led captive when He ascended to the Father. He transported that part of Sheol/Hades called Paradise into Heaven so that, again temporarily until the final resurrection of all men, the souls of the righteous are now in His presence in Heaven.

Paradise, therefore, is in Heaven and believers are carried 'up' to the Lord when they die, whereas the unrighteous still 'descend' into Sheol/Hades located below. Sheol/Hades is now divided and the term after the cross rightly applies only to the place of punishment.

7. The Resurrection of the Dead

CHART ONE - The first resurrection - The resurrection of life

CHART TWO - The second death - The resurrection of judgement

The set up comprising Sheol/Hades, Tartarus and Paradise/Abraham's bosom is not the final structure of the after-life, as it alters again upon the return of Jesus Christ which is the resurrection of the righteous dead (Rev 20:4-6) whereas, after the millennium (however long that is), there is the resurrection of the unrighteous (Rev 20:13-14).

It is when this happens that Gehenna (Hell) comes into existence (but note Rev 19:20 where the false prophet and the beast are thrown directly into that place and not via Sheol/Hades).

For the time being, the after-life is a place of souls, 'absent' from the body (Ps 49:14-15). But there yet remains the time when the souls of all men will be raised from their habitation (Sheol/Hades or Paradise) and be united with incorruptible, eternal new bodies (I Cor 15:51-52 [believers], John 5:28-29 [believers and unbelievers]).

Those who are 'kept under punishment' will be released, albeit momentarily, in order to be judged eternally (II Peter 2:9). At the same time, those angels consigned to be kept in Tartarus will also be judged (II Peter 2:4, Jude 6).

Indeed, all of Hades will give up its dead in order for each occupant to be judged (Rev 20:13-14).

It is after this resurrection and judgment that the eternal dwelling place of God with man is revealed, the new Jerusalem, and Gehenna/Hell/The lake of fire comes into being, and it is to this latter place that we turn our attention in the next section.

8. Gehenna (NT)

a. Etymology of 'Gehenna'

Vines - 'Ge(h)enna represents the Hebrew Ge-Hinnom...'

Morris (on Lk 12:4-5) - 'The word derives from the Hebrew geHinnom, "the valley of Hinnom"'

It was the Hebrew Ge-ben-Hinnom (Valley of the son of Hinnom) and which was shortened to Ge-Hinnom (Valley of Hinnom) that was finally transliterated into the Greek as Ge-henna (Strongs Gk number 1067).

b. The history of the valley of Hinnom

The first mention of Hinnom is found in Joshua 15:8 and 18:16 where it is used as a boundary line to separate the tribal allotment of Benjamin from that of Judah.

Its next mention is in II Chr 28:3 - '...[Ahaz] burned incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burned his sons as an offering...' Manasseh, two generations on from Ahaz, committed the same abominations (II Chr 33:6).

Having become a place of child sacrifice, when Josiah set about purifying Israel's worship of YHWH, he defiled the area so that it could not be used again (II Kings 23:10).

Jeremiah prophesied that the day would come when Jerusalem would be destroyed and the bodies of the dead would be buried in Hinnom (thus defiling the holy place) - this as a judgment on the abomination of child sacrifice (Jer 7:30-34, 19:1-9, 32:35). Jer 1:1-3 - these prophecies came about after Josiah had desecrated Hinnom if we interpret his reforms as taking place at the beginning of his reign as king.

(It is extremely difficult to read Jer 19:4 ['...they have filled this place with the blood of innocents'] and not see in it an application to abortion. In ancient times, they sacrificed the newly born to gods they had made in their own likeness - today, we sacrifice the newly conceived to gods of immorality and selfishness that are the image of the sinful nature)

The only other reference in Neh 11:30 (after the exile) refers to Hinnom as being a place of encampment.

I visited Hinnom in October '86. As I descended into the valley from the west (present day Jerusalem is located to the north, while David's Jerusalem is NE), I was struck by the sudden silence - the steep walls of the valley eliminate most of the hustle and bustle of the busy roads above.

If the entire city's rubbish was deposited here (see below), then the rock faces now visible would have had their base far below today's level, making it more like a gorge or ravine.

c. God's rubbish tip

NB - I have left this section to stand as originally written, even though questions have been raised about the existence of a fire in the Valley. From what I have been able to discover, there's no archaeological evidence that this fire existed (but that doesn't prove that it didn't - silence doesn't disprove a theory in this case). The idea has only been traced back to around 1200AD in a Commentary by a Rabbi. No contemporary first century sources make mention of it. Therefore, accepting this as fact can only be done tentatively.

Cole (Mk 9:43,45,48) - '...Gehenna, the eternally smouldering rubbish-dump outside Jerusalem...’

France (Mtw 5:22) - 'Gehenna, the name of the place where Jerusalem's rubbish was burnt...'

Morris (Lk 12:4-5) - 'In NT times the place was used as a rubbish tip and no doubt a fire was always burning there'

Jeremias - '...the valley of Hinnom was a dump for filth and rubbish...The upper end of the valley...was called Bethso or Besou...[which] means “place of filth”...It was still in modern times the place for rubbish, carrion and all kinds of refuse'

Zondervan (Gehenna) - 'In later times, the valley seems to have been used for burning refuse, and also the bodies of criminals'

Zondervan (Hinnom) - '...the bodies of dead animals and criminals were burned at its ever-burning fires'

When Jesus walked the earth, Gehenna was being used as Jerusalem's rubbish tip, from which smoke ascended constantly as it burned day and night. When we use the word 'hell' today in conversation, it is often laughed at or some sarcastic remark made, as the concept has suffered much misinterpretation over the years, some even seeing the devil as being ‘lord’ over it!

But when Jesus uses this geographical location as a label for the final punishment, all He is doing is taking an illustration that all his hearers will understand. Today, then, if we were to bring the label into 20th century life, we would describe it something like 'God's rubbish tip', 'the place where you will burn forever’.

Perhaps we could even go so far as to say that what God has no use for in His house anymore, He throws away onto the rubbish tip where it decomposes forever, even though it still retains its identity.

d. Jewish interpretation

Kiddushin 4:14 - '...the best among physicians is destined for Gehenna...'
Eduyoth 2:10 - '...the judgment of the unrighteous in Gehenna shall endure 12 months...’
Aboth 1:5 - '...He that talks much with the last will inherit Gehenna'
Aboth 5:19 - 'The disciples of Balaam the wicked inherit Gehenna and go down to the pit of destruction...'
Aboth 5:20 - '...The shameless are for Gehenna...'
All references are to the Mishnah

The Jews had already seen the relevance of the picture of Hinnom with the final place of unrighteous departed souls and were using it as the label for what we now call 'hell'.

Jesus did not dispute the concept of a place of eternal punishment but He did point out that their interpretation of just who went there and who didn't was erroneous - it’s always too easy for anyone to justify themselves as deserving 'heaven' by condemning others as deserving 'hell'! And so the Pharisees did (along with a whole host of christians down through the ages who neglected to heed the warning!)!

Gehenna, then, was in popular usage, so Jesus used the word in His preaching as the place of final and eternal punishment.

9. Teaching regarding 'Gehenna'

a. The Scriptures

That contain the Gk word - Mtw 5:22,29,30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15,33, Mk 9:43,45,47, Lk 12:4-5, James 3:6

That speak about Gehenna - Mtw 7:13, 13:41-42,50, 16:27, 18:34-35, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30,41,46, Lk 3:9,17, 13:28, John 15:6, II Thess 1:9-10, Jude 7,23, Rev 14:10-11, 19:20, 20:11-15

b. Who is taught about Gehenna?

Taking solely the references and teachings of the gospels into account (for all the other writings were written specifically to believers), it is interesting to note that, unlike the application of the teaching by the present-day Church, most of the warnings concerning consignment to Gehenna were given to believers not to unbelievers.

Only in one passage did Jesus speak to His 'non-followers', the Pharisees (Mtw 23:15,33 Cp 23:1), whereas in eleven passages the main thrust of His teaching was passed on to His disciples (Mtw 5:22,29,30 Cp 5:1-2; 7:13 Cp 5:1-2; 10:28 Cp 10:5; 13:41-42 Cp 13:36; 16:27 Cp 16:24; 18:9 Cp 18:1; 18:34-35 Cp 18:21; 24:51 Cp 24:3; 25:30 Cp 24:3; 25:41,46 Cp 24:3; Mk 9:43,45,47-48 Cp 9:38; John 15:6).

Let us remember, then, that Gehenna is a concept that is primarily for the warning of believers.

c. It is a place of punishment

Gehenna is referred to as being a place of fire (Mtw 5:22, 18:9, etc.,) which is never quenched (Mic 9:47-48) and eternal (Mtw 25:41). The presence of humans in the fire is evidence that there will be suffering and torment (Mtw 25:41, John 15:6, Rev 20:11-15).

The use of the word ‘weeping’ denotes sorrow and grief (Mtw 13:41-42, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30). Jesus also talks figuratively about the 'torturers' (Mtw 18:34-35), being 'cut in pieces’ (Mtw 24:51), 'torment' (Rev 14:10-11) and 'destruction' (Mtw 7:13), all of which paint the picture of suffering and misery.

It is such a terrible place to be sent to that, if drastic measures are needed to avoid it, then they are worthwhile (Mtw 5:29-30).

It is not a place where satan is lord over the punishment that is meted out to individuals, but a place where he himself is to be punished (Rev 20:10). To see Gehenna as an alternative civilisation to Heaven is erroneous, the Bible teaches nothing of the sort - it is only a place of punishment where God's rubbish is burnt at the end of the age and over which God presides as King (Mtw 10:28).

d. Its existence and punishment are everlasting, eternal

Does Scripture teach that the final punishment is for eternity (that it will continue forever)? Or is there evidence that the traditional view is incorrect (that the punishment is for a time only and then comes oblivion, nothingness, no conscious existence)?

To determine this, we need to look at certain words that occur in the passages that deal with Gehenna:
i. 'Destroy’ Mtw 10:28 (Strongs Gk number 622)
'Destruction' Mtw 7:13 (Strongs Gk number 684)

R T France, commenting on Mtw 10:28, writes 'Destroy carries the connotation of “loss” and “ruin” as well as of literal destruction, so that the expression does not necessarily, though it may, imply a view of the annihilation of the impenitent as opposed to eternal punishment'.

Whereas Vines, quite dogmatically, writes 'Apoleia...indicating loss of well-being, not of being...'

All that can be said here, then, is that, although these passages have been taken to indicate that the Bible teaches Annihilationism, their evidence is inconclusive and the interpretation of the Gk words lend themselves equally well to either viewpoint. Even in English, both these words can be interpreted in differing ways regarding context and, as the Gk context is inconclusive, it is better that we look elsewhere for proof of the Bible's teaching as to duration.

ii. 'Worm' Mic 9:47-48 Pp Is 66:24 (Strongs Gk number 4668)

Kittels - '...the reference may be either to definitive destruction or to unremitting corruption; the latter is more likely.' Vines - 'Skolex, a worm which preys upon dead bodies...The statement signifies the exclusion of the hope of restoration, the punishment being eternal'.

Worms were the final destiny of the body as it was they that broke down the physical structure to return it to 'dust'. By saying that the worm does not die, Jesus is saying that the decomposition is unending, there is no finality to it.

The OT Pp in Is 66:24 reads '..their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh' where the same two phrases are used as in Mark. It is quite amazing, considering both these, that commentators have interpreted Mk 9:47-48 as not referring to an everlasting punishment - the meaning is quite obvious.

iii. 'Destruction' II Thess 1:9-10 (Strongs Gk number 3639)

Kittels - 'This word means a. "corruption", especially "death", and b. "that which brings corruption”.’

The word does not mean 'oblivion' or 'total annihilation' as can be seen from its use in I Tim 6:9 and I Cor 5:5. Morris - 'Destruction means not annihilation but complete ruin. It is the loss of all that makes life worth living.'

iv. 'Unquenchable' Lk 3:17 (Strongs Gk number 762 - asbestos)
'[not] quench' Mic 9:48 (Strongs Gk number 4570 - sbennumi)
'[never] quench' Mk 9:43,45 Strongs Gk number 762)

The fire of Gehenna remains continually burning - the smoke of the valley of Hinnom rose from the earth day and night, while the refuse combusted into ashes. If the event in world history of the final judgment did not mean everlasting punishment, there would be no reason to speak of the flames of that punishment as being unquenchable ie - not able to be extinguished.

The use of these words, therefore, must point us toward the interpretation that an everlasting punishment is meant to be understood.

v. 'Eternal' Mtw 25:41,46, II Thess 1:9-10, Jude 7 (Strongs Gk number 166)

It has been strongly suggested that aionios (translated 'eternal' or 'everlasting') is to be understood as meaning 'until the end of the age(s)' which would signify that God's punishment of sinners is limited, at which time they will cease to exist, having received the fulness of their judgment.

The word that aionios comes from does indeed incorporate the concept of 'age' into it, and Hebrew thought is of the same view that world history is made up of specific 'ages' in which God fulfils His purposes.

However, is this the exclusive use of aionios in the NT?

If II Cor 5:18 is read, it will be seen that the word is used to denote time without end - '...the things that are seen are transient (or 'for a season'), but the things that are unseen are eternal (aionios)'. There would be little sense contrasting two words to imply different concepts if they meant virtually the same thing!

Therefore, there is no reason to presume that 'eternal' fire, punishment or whatever, has to be interpreted with an underlying concept attached to it of a limited period of time.

When all has been considered, there is no reason to abandon the traditional viewpoint for a doctrine that is set up on extremely rickety foundations.

Annihilationism, which does not encourage the Church to make decisions that will shape eternity, should be rejected, and an adherence to the natural and obvious meaning of Scripture adhered to.

After all, Annihilationism won't last forever! Ha!

e. It was not brought into existence for Humanity

Mtw 25:41 reads that Gehenna was prepared by God for the devil and his angels. But, just as satan's rebellion is the cause of his sentencing, so too all men and women who share in his rebellion against the will of God are committed into Gehenna on the final day (Rev 20:11-15).

f. There are more in Gehenna than there are in Heaven

Though many have taught that only the really bad will be sentenced to hell (bank robbers, rapists, murderers and the like), thus giving most of mankind access to God's presence regardless of the demands of the cross, Jesus taught His disciples that the majority are committed there (Mtw 7:13).

It’s also interesting to note that those who proclaim that only the ‘really bad’ are committed to hell, the preachers almost always manage to include themselves in the part of society that God considers to be ‘good’!

g. It is a place of continuing anger against God

We have, above, interpreted ‘weeping’ as being indicative of sorrow and grief. It occurs in the phrase 'weeping and gnashing of teeth' (Mtw 13:41-42, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30) and we need to ask ourselves whether we should interpret the second phrase a similar way.

If there was no Scriptural precedent against doing so, we would follow the line of many other commentators and see in it a reference to remorse. But, to be true to the OT Scriptures, it must be pointed out that gnashing one's teeth has to do with the anger and hatred of a specific object, it is not the result of self-pity or self-centred sorrow of the heart.

Job 16:9, Ps 35:16, 37:12, Lam 2:16, Acts 7:54 - In all these verses, the gnashing of teeth is directed at someone, an outward demonstration of inner anger. The only possible exception is in Ps 112:10, but this, too, can be interpreted the same way as above as there is no obvious context that establishes its meaning.

Hell, then, is the place where there is continuing anger and hatred - anger and hatred directed towards God. Hell is not a place where people are sent because they have recognised their sin and are sorry for it, but a place that contains those who are continually angry against God and His ways (ie - those who, in this life, hated Him by living in rebellion to His Sovereignty).

That is why there is no end to hell's suffering - because there is no end to the anger and hatred of individuals against God.

h. The reason for being sentenced to go there

Below is a list of specific sins - both of omission (failing to do what is right) and commission (doing what is wrong) which reap the reward of hell. It is not an exhaustive list and should not be treated as so:

Mtw 5:22 - Insulting a brother in anger.
Mtw 23:29-33 - Persecuting the Lord's people while maintaining an outward show of piety and good works.
Mtw 18:34-35 - Unforgiveness (of a brother).
Mtw 22:11-13 - Failing to be clothed in the correct garments (of the righteousness of God in Christ).
Mtw 24:48-51 - Damaging God's people/household.
Mtw 25:24-30 - Failing to use what the Lord gives to an individual.
Mtw 25:41-46 - Failing to look after God's people/household.
Lk 3:9 - Failing to bear fruit for God.
John 15:6 - Failing to live in Jesus.
II Thess 1:8-9 - Refusing to obey the gospel of Jesus.

Simply, the reason for admission to Gehenna is either on the basis of:

i. What one does
Mtw 13:41-42, 16:27, Rev 20:12-13.

ii. What one is
Mtw 13:49.

That is, it is not enough to perform good works (things that are done) if, on the inside, one is not acceptable to God.

The gospel, then, is man's only hope, for the cross deals both with the inner man (crucifixion of the flesh and the implantation of the new nature) and the outer (forgiveness of past deeds and power to perform those works that spring out of faith).