Jesus Never Mentioned Eternal Torment in Hell

The Valley of  Hinnom, Public Domain
The Valley of Hinnom, Public Domain | Source
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Introduction

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 fulfillment 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.

King Ahaz

Ahaz from Guillaume Rouill's Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum
Ahaz from Guillaume Rouill's Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum | Source

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.

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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

  • Eze 20:47-48 KJV And say to the forest of the south, Hear the word of the LORD; Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree: the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burned therein. 48 And all flesh shall see that I the LORD have kindled it: it shall not be quenched.

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.

  • Mat 3:12 KJV Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

John the Baptist issued warnings of impending destruction, and used the same prophetic figurative speech as the other Old Testament prophets. The fulfillment 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 fulfillment 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 Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount, Cosimo Rosselli (1439-1507)
The Sermon on the Mount, Cosimo Rosselli (1439-1507) | Source

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 and baptism could they avoid the fiery national judgement at the hands of the Romans.

Map of The Siege of Jerusalem AD 70

Beginning April, A.D.70, Forty Years to the Week from the Crucifixion of Christ | The temple was burnt August 10, A. D. 70, the exact same day and month on which it had been burnt by the king of Babylon: Josephus, Ant. b. xx. c. 11. s. 8.
Beginning April, A.D.70, Forty Years to the Week from the Crucifixion of Christ | The temple was burnt August 10, A. D. 70, the exact same day and month on which it had been burnt by the king of Babylon: Josephus, Ant. b. xx. c. 11. s. 8. | Source

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

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Conclusion

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 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 it is to dwell in darkness and carry the burden of fear and uncertainty.

'Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?'...Genesis 18:25.

What do you think?

Footnote

A Quote from Online Etymology Dictionary

Hell

'also Hell, Old English hel, helle, "nether world, abode of the dead, infernal regions, place of torment for the wicked after death," from Proto-Germanic *haljo "the underworld" (cognates: Old Frisian helle, Old Saxon hellia, Dutch hel, Old Norse hel, German Hölle, Gothic halja "hell"). Literally "concealed place" (compare Old Norse hellir "cave, cavern"), from PIE *kel- (2) "to cover, conceal" (see cell).


The English word may be in part from Old Norse mythological Hel (from Proto-Germanic *halija "one who covers up or hides something"), in Norse mythology the name of Loki's daughter who rules over the evil dead in Niflheim, the lowest of all worlds (nifl "mist"). A pagan concept and word fitted to a Christian idiom. In Middle English, also of the Limbus Patrum, place where the Patriarchs, Prophets, etc. awaited the Atonement. Used in the KJV for Old Testament Hebrew Sheol and New Testament Greek Hades, Gehenna. Used figuratively for "state of misery, any bad experience" since at least late 14c. As an expression of disgust, etc., first recorded 1670s.

To have hell break loose is from 1630s. Expression Hell in a handbasket is attested by 1867, in a context implying use from a few years before, and the notion of going to Heaven in a handbasket is from 1853, implying "easy passage" to the destination. Hell or high water (1874) apparently is a variation of between the devil and the deep blue sea. To wish someone would go to hell is in Shakespeare ("Merchant of Venice"). Snowball's chance in hell "no chance" is from 1931; till hell freezes over "never" is from 1832.

To do something for the hell of it "just for fun" is from 1921. To ride hell for leather is from 1889, originally with reference to riding on horseback. Hell on wheels is from 1843 as the name of a steamboat; its general popularity dates from 1869 in reference to the temporary workers' vice-ridden towns along the U.S. transcontinental railroad. Scottish had hell-wain (1580s) "a phantom wagon seen in the sky at night."'

Alexander Gibb

© 2013 Alexander Gibb

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11 comments

CJ Sledgehammer 3 years ago

Simply another well-written and thought-provoking piece, Alexander....thank you!!!

Indeed...I shall consult scripture once more and try to reconcile the concept of Hell and the Lake of fire.

So, what happens to those who live by their own code and ignore the Almighty? What is their fate? What did Christ come to save us from?

Do you subscribe to the theory of "annihilationism" as some do?

This study is worthy of deeper reflection, and, as always, you have got me thinking. :0)

May the Almighty bless you with plenty - C.J. Sledgehammer


searchinsany profile image

searchinsany 3 years ago from UK Author

C J, it's great to hear from you again, I hope all is well with you, and thank you for your comment.

Q) What did Christ come to save us from?

A) Let's recap a little, Jesus came to the Jew first to fulfil the Law and the Prophets as promised to Old Covenant Israel. He preached repentance prior to the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God and offered salvation to the penitent before the great and the terrible day of the Lord in AD 70.

Of course, Christ's ministry was much more than that! The Jews looked for a Messiah who would deliver them from the Roman Empire and set up a kingdom on earth. Whereas Jesus came to accomplish God's great plan of redemption and establish the Kingdom of God in the hearts of 'man'.

The exodus from Egypt and the destruction of Pharaoh's army was a foreshadow of an even greater exodus. It was the exodus from the bondage of sin, death, and Satan's kingdom of darkness. Jesus came to set the captives free!

More importantly, what did Christ come to save us to?

Christ's ministry was one of reconciliation of the sinner to fellowship with the Father. The believer is saved from a life of bondage to a life of forgiveness and restoration. Not only that, the believer has the assurance of everlasting life.

Q) So, what happens to those who live by their own code and ignore the Almighty? What is their fate?

A) In my Hubs I attempt to speak only when the Scriptures speak and be silent when the Scriptures are silent.

In this Hub I am confident that it has scriptural support, and after a lot of deliberation I believe it can withstand scrutiny. However, in answer to this question I would only be speculating. One thing I am sure of is that it is far better to be in Christ.

Q) Do you subscribe to the theory of "annihilationism" as some do?

I don't subscribe to this theory because I am unable to find sufficient support in Scripture.

This is the best I can do. lol

GB


CJ Sledgehammer 3 years ago

Dear Friend:

I have only a moment before I am removed from this computer, but I just want you to know that I have read your response and will return after further review. :0)

Please know that you are greatly esteemed and are a trusted source of inspiration.

May the Almighty bless you abundantly - C.J. Sledgehammer


searchinsany profile image

searchinsany 3 years ago from UK Author

C J Sledgehammer

Thank you, I look forward to your comments.


regen 2 years ago

can you source this?

"Josephus recorded that a multitude of dead bodies filled the valley of Hinnom, following the Roman destruction of Jerusalem."


searchinsany profile image

searchinsany 2 years ago from UK Author

Regen

Thank you for reading and commenting on my Hub.

A Quote from Josephus 'The Wars Of The Jews Or The History Of The Destruction Of Jerusalem Book V Chapter 12 Paragraph 3.

'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.'

Jer 19:6-9 KJV 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.7 And I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place; and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hands of them that seek their lives: and their carcases will I give to be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth. 8 And I will make this city desolate, and an hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished and hiss because of all the plagues thereof. 9 And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they shall eat every one the flesh of his friend in the siege and straitness, wherewith their enemies, and they that seek their lives, shall straiten them.

A Quote from John Gill's Exposition of the Bible

Jeremiah 19:9 'Jerom observes, that though this was fulfilled at the Babylonish captivity, yet more fully when Jerusalem was besieged by Vespasian and Titus, and in the times of Hadrian. Josephus (q) gives us a most shocking relation of a woman eating her own son.'

A Quote from Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible

Jeremiah 19:9 'I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons - This was literally fulfilled when Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans. This also the prophet might have had in view.'

Commentators John Gill and Adam Clarke agree that the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was the fulfilment of Jeremiah 19. Josephus recorded over 1,000,000 people were killed during the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70.

A Quote from Thayer's 'Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament'

'Gehenna, the name of a valley on the S. and E. of Jerusalem...which was so called from the cries of the little children who were thrown into the fiery arms of Moloch, i.e., of an idol having the form of a bull. The Jews so abhorred the place after these horrible sacrifices had been abolished by king Josiah (2 Kings xxiii.10), that they cast into it not only all manner of refuse, but even the dead bodies of animals and of unburied criminals who had been executed. And since fires were always needed to consume the dead bodies, that the air might not become tainted by the putrefaction, it came to pass that the place was called Gehenna.'

A Quote from Edward W Fudge's 'The Fire That Consumes'

'The valley bore this name at least as early as the writing of Joshua (Josh. 15:8; 18:16), though nothing is known of its origin. It was the site of child-sacrifices to Moloch in the days of Ahaz and Manasseh (apparently in 2 Kings 16:3; 21:6). This earned it the name “Topheth,” a place to be spit on or abhorred. This “Topheth” may have become a gigantic pyre for burning corpses in the days of Hezekiah after God slew 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in a night and saved Jerusalem (Isa. 30:31-33; 37:26). Jeremiah predicted that it would be filled to overflowing with Israelite corpses when God judged them for their sins (Jer. 7:31-33; 19:2-13). Josephus indicates that the same valley was heaped with dead bodies of the Jews follow­ing the Roman siege of Jerusalem about A.D. 69- 70...Josiah desecrated the repugnant valley as part of his godly reform (2 Kings 23:10). Long before the time of Jesus, the Valley of Hinnom had become crusted over with connotations of whatever is “condemned, useless, corrupt, and forever discarded."

Please feel free to comment on any of my Hubs.

GB


regen 2 years ago

Thank you for sourcing! I was researching the idea the Matthew didn't misquote in ch. 27 about the 30 pieces of silver being a Jeremiah prophecy as oppposed to Zechariah. But the main idea was that he was saying Judas purchased the curse of Jeremiah 19 with the 30 pieces of silver.


EugenevanderWatt profile image

EugenevanderWatt 2 years ago

Hi searchinsany, I enjoyed your well written article thank you. I myself am a firm "enough" believer in annihilationism and appreciate what Fudge makes so wonderfully clear as well on this misunderstood/translated and contentious matter. And I must add that I have come to the conclusion that Gehenna was not just for 69/70 AD or the Holocaust for that matter, but that it points towards the future still in a very real sense and so to a later time of judgement where there will be a judgement pronounced on some to a second death damnation, and so that everyone condemned therein would be completely burned up to utter annihilation of their person (being). What say you?


searchinsany profile image

searchinsany 2 years ago from UK Author

EugenevanderWatt

Thank you for your comment.

Until I embraced Fulfilled Covenant Eschatology (Preterism), I wrestled with the various views on this topic for many years. I hasten to add that I am unsure if any Preterist writers will fully agree with this article.

Since I now believe in the fulfillment of all prophecy by AD 70, and refute the doctrine of double fulfillment of prophecy, I conclude the Scriptures are silent on the future outcome of those who are not 'in Christ', whether eternal torment or annihilation.

When I began writing on HubPages, I resolved to write only what can be supported by Scripture. To speak when the Scriptures speak, and to remain silent when the Scriptures are silent.

'Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’...Genesis 18:25.

All my Hubs have an ‘end times’ theme and if read collectively, the reader may understand the reasoning behind this Hub.

What do you think?


Joshua Nicholson profile image

Joshua Nicholson 16 months ago

I think you and I are on the same page with our articles, we merely address it differently. The translation of Gehenna is another good point though.


searchinsany profile image

searchinsany 16 months ago from UK Author

Joshua

Thank you for taking the time to read my Hub.

I was particularly impressed with your use of the Scriptures in your Hub.

Eleven years ago I began examining the traditional view I was taught, my Hubs are the result.

In my opinion, scriptural support is crucial in everything we write.

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