The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Gehenna: a thousand word description

A picture is worth a thousand words. Gehenna is circled for you. “Gehenna” is a transliteration of the Greek word for “the Valley of Hinnom”. Here are all twelve occurrences of the Greek word “Gehenna” in the New Testament. I have used my favorite translation (the New King James Version), but I have taken the liberty of properly translating “Gehenna”.

Matthew 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 the fire of the Valley of Hinnom.

Matthew 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 the Valley of Hinnom.

Matthew 5:30
And 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 the Valley of Hinnom.

Matthew 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 the Valley of Hinnom.

Matthew 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 the fire of the Valley of Hinnom.

Matthew 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 the Valley of Hinnom as yourselves.

Matthew 23:33
Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of the Valley of Hinnom?

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 the Valley of Hinnom, 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 the Valley of Hinnom, 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 the fire of the Valley of Hinnom—

Luke 12:5
But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into the Valley of Hinnom; yes, I say to you, fear Him!

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 the Valley of Hinnom.

Thus was “Gehenna” used by Jesus as a prophetic metaphor of Jerusalem’s and in particular her Temple’s fiery end when she was fully ablaze in AD70… none other than the Apostle John’s “lake of fire”. This was the final act of Divine Judgment on that Old Covenant age; the “second death” from which there was no resurrection, i.e., nothing of any redemptive value from the Old Covenant ministration would survive that END.

I’m sure it did foreshadow 70 AD, but I’m thinking it also references the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. All put together, a place of fiery judgment; of agony and regret and outer darkness. To be avoided, even though the “fire” burns out only the refuse. As Sherman is fond of saying, if you don’t listen to Jesus’ words and heed them, your life ends up trashed. (Whether or not Hinnom was indeed a city dump in or around Jesus’ time.) Great compilation, Geoff, and I especially appreciate the photo. All put together the way you’ve done this, it really brings it home for me. Thanks!

I notice that James used it in a sense that is definitely metaphorical. It seems to me also that Jesus’ uses of it seem mostly related to personal actions and attitudes, giving ma a stronger metaphorical application to eternal judgment than being limited to a time specific fulfillment.

Yes indeed Cindy, that is the OT background for this… as Jesus’ hearers would have been fully familiar etc; and yet so many chose to ignore that which could have averted such i.e., “the time of visitation.Lk 19:41-44

When/if you understand “eternal judgment” in terms of “the FULLNESS of judgment” then that does indeed point to what came fully on THEIR old covenant world/age. Jesus WASN’T talking over their heads… his words had direct applicability to HIS “this generation”. Paul was of the same mind knowing that of which Jesus spoke, saying… if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. Rom 11:14

Thank you for this. You have helped me understand some verses that were troubling me:

etc, etc.

Yes, Hinnom Valley is a real place with a real history. It was a very real open festering wound in the 1st century Jewish psychy like speaking of the Hollocaust today. It could have had at least 3 different metaphorical meanings:

  1. “If” it was a trash dump it could have warned of having your life trashed. The phrases “worms that die not” (maggots) and “eternal (continuous) fire” seem to fit this concept.

  2. King Ahaz erected an idol Molech and the Jews sacrificed their children to it, ultimately leading to the destruction of Jerusalem with bodies being piled high in Hinnom Valley. So, Jesus’ message could be, “Cut your hand off, pluck your eye out, and stop sinning, less you sacrifice your own children to the idols of your heart and bring destruction to all you love!” This could also be an allusion to the then-coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

  3. There is evidence the Pharisees used Hinnom Valley as a metaphor for after-life punishment of sin, primarily rehabilitative, but potentially annihilation for the most wicked. When speaking with the Pharisees, Jesus would have be challenging their doctrines, warning them of the judgment of God.

I think Jesus used this metaphor purposefully to communicate several truths, not one of which is ECT.

I have seen that claim a great many times, but I have never seen a quote from a document written no later than A. D. 30 supporting it. I am skeptical that such a document exists. The earliest I have ever seen “Gehenna” used with an eschatological meaning is (possibly) Justin Martyr or (certainly) Clement of Alexandria.

If any one can provide an actual quote from a document no later than A. D. 30, I will be both surprised (shocked, actually) and thankful.

(Sherman, I hope I’m not coming across as snippy. I don’t mean to. I know we pretty much see eye-to-eye on this. The misuse of the term “Gehenna” is a big pet peeve of mine. Considering the English word “Hell” to be an acceptable translation of the Greek word “Gehenna” is so monstrously, preposterously ludicrous that it doesn’t even rise to the level of being wrong. Every time I see it I am tempted to think, “Why should I trust anything these guys say about the Greek language when they can’t even tell the difference between a little valley and everlasting Hell?” There is nothing there, nothing at all justifying translating “Gehenna” as anything in the world other than “Valley of Hinnom”.)


I think there is some merit for a metaphorical application in the mind of Christ for the Valley of Hinnom.

Looking at the history of it, the contemporary purpose of it in Jesus’ day, and the ways in which He referred to it,

Or if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out. It would be better for you to enter into the Kingdom of God half-blind than remain in possession of two eyes and be thrown into Gehenna, where their worm does not die and the fire does not go out. (Mk 9:47,48 Weymouth)

In context with Jesus’ other statements about unquenchable fire (thoroughly purging the threshing floor of chaff for instance) and then looking at these verses

But let every one be careful how and what he builds. For no one can lay any other foundation in addition to that which is already laid, namely Jesus Christ. And whether the building which any one is erecting on that foundation be of gold or silver or costly stones, of timber or hay or straw— **the true character of each individual’s work will become manifest. For the day of Christ will disclose it, because that day is soon to come upon us clothed in fire, and as for the quality of every one’s work— the fire is the thing which will test it. If any one’s work—the building which he has erected—stands the test, he will be rewarded. If any one’s work is burnt up, he will suffer the loss of it; yet he will himself be rescued, but only, as it were, by passing through the fire. **1 Cor 3:11-15

Since Paul is essentially talking about the garbage (wood hay and stubble) being consumed- false motives, mixture, wrong doctrine, carnal religious works, etc.- I believe he is expressing the same core teaching as Jesus, being the wise-master builder he was.

I think it is difficult and perhaps incorrect to take the verses about the Valley of Hinnom totally out of context with the rest of what Jesus says about the Day, and aionion pyr and aionion kolassis.

Since the Valley of Hinnom was the place where the Israelites sacrificed to Moloch (even to their children), making them “pass through the fire” which God commanded them not to do in Lev. 18:21 but they did anyway, under Ahaz (2 Kings 17:17), Jeroboam and Mannasseh- and this was WELL known to the Pharisees and all the people in His day.

Then Josiah, as a prototype of Jesus in the line of David, the “man after God’s heart” comes and destroys and burns up the altars and idols and makes it a garbage dump forever.

This fire, imo, is the fire that John sees in the eyes of Jesus in Rev 1, a purging and purifying fire that separates the impurities from out of the precious metal of the human soul…“all things are open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do”(heb ch. 4) and spiritually, it will burn up the garbage, for “I am He that tries the reins and the hearts”.

I think you’re right on this above Sherman. I tend to see things in terms of a synthesis of your points one and two.

To clarify:

  1. The Greek word “Gehenna” can be sensibly translated only a single way: “Valley of Hinnom”.

  2. People can and do use everyday place names metaphorically. For example, I am a substitute teacher. The worst school to substitute at in my school district is named Roncalli. If I substitute at another school, but have a bad day, I might tell my wife, “It was Roncalli today.” She understands that to mean that the students were rotten.

The above two points do not exclude one another. Certainly when Jesus referred to the Valley of Hinnom, He was aware and making use of its unpleasant connotations from its Old Testament history. But to translate “Gehenna” as “Hell”? Pure poppycock.

Well that’s true because “hell” became the metaphor for “Dante’s Inferno”. :unamused:

I don’t have a problem using the word “hell” because to many, that’s the equivalent of “future judgment and punishment for the wicked.” And I certainly do believe that will come. I do try to clarify terms for people, but that’s not necessary in every discussion.

I like the picture and verses – great way to show people that the issue might not be as clear as they thought.


Sorry to be a bulldog, but I have a huge problem with translating the Greek word “Gehenna” with the English word “hell”. The word “Gehenna” literally means “Valley of Hinnom”. The Greek word “ge” means “valley”, and “Henna” is “Hinnom”. Thus, Valley of Hinnom. This is a simple and straightforward matter of translation.

Take a look at the use of the word “Babylon” in Peter’s epistles and in the book of Revelation. A great many people (most, perhaps) take it to refer to the city of Rome. Some take it to refer to the city of Jerusalem. Etc. That’s one thing. That’s interpretation. But imagine if a translator translated the word “Babylon” with the word “Rome” or “Jerusalem” or any word whatsoever besides “Babylon”. That would be utterly unacceptable. Translation is different than paraphrase!

Thus, every English translation in the world (no exceptions) should translate the word “Gehenna” with the words “Valley of Hinnom”. (Just as every English translation should translate the word “Babylon” with “Babylon”, the word “Rome” with “Rome”, the words “Sea of Galilee” with “Sea of Galilee”, etc.)

People can later debate about correct interpretations. But we first need accurate translations. If our “translations” are really interpretative paraphrases masquerading as translations, then the debate can never even start. We have to first know that Jesus was saying, “Valley of Hinnom” before we can ask ourselves, “What does Valley of Hinnom refer to here?”

And as for me and my house, we believe that the words “Valley of Hinnom” refer to the Valley of Hinnom, photographed and circled in my opening post. :slight_smile:

Why were the translators so determined to fit the word “Hell” into places it obviously does not fit? It seems very dishonest, and makes one wonder where else such obvious propoganda was foisted upon us.

Are there some other examples?

Well there’s all the examples of where sheol and hades are translated as ‘hell’ and effectively treated that way, despite the fact that they’re thrown into the lake of fire in Revelation 20, the lake of fire also being assumed to be ‘hell’.

Hell chucked into hell… hmmmm

Exactly so. When I contemplate entire teams of professional translators of every English translation that I can think of translating “Valley of Hinnom” as something other than “Valley of Hinnom”, it makes me doubt just about everything–not only biblical translations, but also translations of other works, and even experts of completely unrelated fields. What are their “Gehenna” fiascoes?

Another thing that occurred to me over lunch: In the Old Testament, when the translators encounter the Hebrew for “Valley of Hinnom”, guess what they translate it as? They translate it as “Valley of Hinnom”! But when you get to the New Testament, logic, reason, and honesty fall into the tank and “Valley of Hinnom” is translated as anything other than “Valley of Hinnom”. It drives me to distraction.

Thus, typical readers of English translations of the New Testament go through their entire lives never even suspecting that Jesus so much as mentioned the Valley of Hinnom that is so often mentioned in the Old Testament. It’s very sad.

I would be rich if I had a dime for every time someone tried to “prove” everlasting Hell to me by pointing at a verse in an English translation that says “hell” when it should read “Valley of Hinnom”. When I try to explain how that is a 100% inaccurate and even dishonest translation, I’m never believed. After all, who are you going to believe? Geof McKinney, or this entire team of academic translators listed in the front of the translation? It’s exasperating.

I have to agree. “Hell” seems an irresponsible translation for “Valley of Hinnom,” and honestly, the transliteration “Gehenna” doesn’t work that well either, because now people automatically mentally translate that into "Hell."It seems like we do this even though we know it refers to a place – or I do. We know it refers to this valley outside of Jerusalem, and we “know” that said valley means “Hell.” Hinnom Valley however retains its foreign sound, and therefore calls for thought. Perhaps even enough thought to shepherd in a trickle of enlightenment. It is this sort of thing that makes me even a bit distrustful of the “literal” versions (if such a thing could truly exist and be readable. Many translations. Many translations, and Strongs, and Thayers, and Vines, and even then, take it with a grain of salt. If I’m still not reasonably satisfied that I have something that looks like a correct understanding, I ask you all here what you think of it. :wink:

You’re right. There is no sense in transliterating the word “Gehenna”. Doing so obscures the fact that it is a valley, a valley mentioned many times in the Old Testament. Hiding this prevents further questions such as, “Where is this valley?”

Imagine if translators, at every occurrence, transliterated the Greek words for Mount of Olives as “Oros ton Eleion”. We would have, for example, the following translation of Matthew 21:1:

“Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at Oros ton Eleion, then Jesus sent two disciples…”

Worse, imagine that they translated those words as “Hell”:

“Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at Hell, then Jesus sent two disciples…”

The first example is meaningless, while the second is downright misleading. Thank God the translators exercised common sense in this case and translated as follows:

“Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples…”