The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Gehenna: a thousand word description

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…”

This is why I am somewhat convinced that at the end of the age, true believers will be found among many, and many who thought they were, will not be. Not based on this one doctrine, maybe… But, those that relish this doctrine of Hell… Well, it is difficult for me to fathom that the love of Christ is in them. I can understand a Christian saying “Well, I think the Bible does talk about Hell” but to say “Hell is God doing his best, while he turns his back on your forever” is demonic, in my opinion.

Just like when Edwards (I think it was Edwards) talked about putting a spider over the fire and watching it squirm in pain as it dies… Who the “HELL” does that? The Bible says that the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel… I am really believing that. I firmly believe many who think they are righteous and are not, and many who think they are not, are, actually.

Even if I thought that everlasting Hell really existed, I would still recognize the absurdity of translating “Gehenna” as anything other than “Valley of Hinnom”. Recognizing this is an instance of egregious mistranslation is something that everybody–Christians (whether universalist or not) and non-Christians–can agree on.

“Gehenna” as they all understood Jesus’ use of it, i.e., as a metaphor, could simply be translated as “destruction” because that’s the full import of Jesus’ use of the word… and such was pertinent to THIS LIFE, not the next.

Now let us consider the thirteen occurrences of the Hebrew word for “Hinnom” in the Old Testament, found in the following eleven verses:
Joshua 15:8
Joshua 18:16
II Kings 23:10
II Chronicles 28:3
II Chronicles 33:6
Nehemiah 11:30
Jeremiah 7:31
Jeremiah 7:32
Jeremiah 19:2
Jeremiah 19:6
Jeremiah 32:35

Guess how the Hebrew words for “Valley of Hinnom” are translated in all the standard English translations I’ve seen? As “Valley of Hinnom” (or, as appropriate, “Valley of the Son of Hinnom”)! See how easy that is? When the Greek translators go insane and translate the Greek word for “Valley of Hinnom” as “Hell”, the rich connections between the Old Testament mentions of Hinnom and the New Testament mentions of Hinnom are lost. It’s very sad.

Now, for fun, let us see how absurd it would be if the Hebrew translators were to follow the ludicrous lead of the Greek translators in rendering “Valley of Hinnom” as “Hell”:

Joshua 15:8
And the border went up by Hell to the southern slope of the Jebusite city (which is Jerusalem). The border went up to the top of the mountain that lies before Hell westward, which is at the end of the Valley of Rephaim northward.

Joshua 18:16
Then the border came down to the end of the mountain that lies before Hell, which is in the Valley of the Rephaim on the north, descended to Hell, to the side of the Jebusite city on the south, and descended to En Rogel.

II Kings 23:10
And he defiled Topheth, which is in Hell, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire to Molech.

II Chronicles 28:3
He burned incense in Hell, and burned his children in the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel.

II Chronicles 33:6
Also he caused his sons to pass through the fire in Hell; he practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft and sorcery, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger.

Nehemiah 11:30
Zanoah, Adullam, and their villages; in Lachish and its fields; in Azekah and its villages. They dwelt from Beersheba to Hell.

Jeremiah 7:31
And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in Hell, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into My heart.

Jeremiah 7:32
"Therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “when it will no more be called Tophet, or Hell, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Tophet until there is no room.

Jeremiah 19:2
And go out to Hell, which is by the entry of the Potsherd Gate; and proclaim there the words that I will tell you,

Jeremiah 19:6
“therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that this place shall no more be called Tophet or Hell, but the Valley of Slaughter."

Jeremiah 32:35
And they built the high places of Baal which are in Hell, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I did not command them, nor did it come into My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

While I do agree with you Geoffrey, overall, I was thinking this:

"Therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “when it will no more be called Tophet, or Hell, but the Valley of Slaughter;

Since the valley of will change names to the “Valley of the Slaughter” that, to me, is describing a hell like name to me. So, it is possible that the translators to have basically said “Valley of Hinnom” was GOING to be the Valley of Slaughter (based on this prophecy from, what 600bc?) and the Valley of the Slaughter is likely what Christ was talking about as the prophecy was undoubtedly going to come true if it had not already.

Now, in my opinion, this just reinforces the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The only problem I have with Jesus giving this warning as a warning for a future physical event is that why would a single person’s sin cause them to go to the Valley of the Slaughter? That makes no sense to me. But, if we use it as a metaphor for “Garbage Dump” which apparently, it was during that time period, then it makes a LOT of sense.

“And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee:” - Figuratively remove anything in your life that causes you to sin.

“for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” It is better to endure the pain that results from denial of sin (sometimes sin is fun, short lived gratification, but it comes at a price…) than to experience the pain of a broken and destroyed life. In the case of lust, this could be a destroyed marriage, death if it lead to adultery, prison depending on laws broken, STDs… So, yes, Jesus was absolutely correct to say that saying no to lust might feel like you are cutting off a part of your life, as you are in fact saying “no” to what feels good and seems harmless (at the time), but you do that to avoid that which will ultimately lead to your destruction and would be far more painful than a bit of self-denial. “God will not be mocked, a man will reap whatever we sows” and so if we don’t listen to the wise words of Jesus, we will experience the judgement he is clearly talking about.

For the sake of illustration, let us say that I was absolutely convinced that all of the New Testament’s references to “Gehenna” are 100% metaphorical references to post-mortem sufferings. Even so, it would still be 100% unacceptable to translate “Gehenna” with anything other than “Valley of Hinnom”. Translators translate. They have no business operating in this way: “Well, we know what the word says. But who cares? We think it means such-and-so. We will therefore put our interpretation into the text and euphemistically call it a translation.”

For example, I believe that Jesus is the second Person of the holy Trinity, God the Son, incarnate. What if I published a “translation” that, instead of translating the Greek word for “Jesus” as “Jesus”, I instead translated “God the Son”? For example:

“And God the Son, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.” (Matthew 4:18)

Why not? After all, Jesus “really means” God the Son, so I might as well “translate” accordingly. Of course not. That would be absurd. Exactly as absurd as translating “Valley of Hinnom” as something other than “Valley of Hinnom”. :slight_smile:

You’re not being snippy at all. And I don’t know that there is documentation earlier than 30 AD, the Mishnah (approx. 200 AD) and Talmud (approx 400 AD) were written much later but record Oral Tradition that was handed down from some BC generations, especially taking note of Shammai and Hillel who were contemporaries, relatively speaking, with Jesus. And it was the Pharisees that promoted these Oral Traditions - which Jesus soundly denounced.

I used to give significant weight to this perspective, but have come to believe that Jesus predominantly referenced the Historical perspective of Hinnom Valley. It is the most powerful perspective, I think. To paraphrase Jesus - "Get the sin out of your life. If your eye sins pluck it out. If your hand sins cut it off. It is better to go through live maimed and blind than to end up with a life good for nothing but the trash, and even sacrifice your own children to the idols of your heart, and bring destruction to all whom you love!

This perspective speaks a powerful warning to the children of God, to believers. Unbelievers don’t care what it says. And mistranslating Hinnom Valley as Hell completely nullifies these warnings of speaking powerfully to anyone. Believers say, “No worries for me, I’m saved.” And unbelievers don’t care what it says. A tradition that nullifies the power of scripture.

Fully agreed, but my intent was to perhaps show what people are thinking when they translate…

Missionaries go to northern Germany, England, Scandinavia. The Latin Vulgate translation has translated the Hinnom Valley to be Inferno. So in trying to convert the Norsemen they use the pagan Norse religion’s term Hel, which was their afterlife for the non heroic ones. Fear aka the scare tactic is the most commonly used coercion, manipulation tactic around. Governments, schools, parents, spouses etc will use the I am angry at you tactic to get people to do what they want them to do. So way back when the Barbarians got a threat of going to their own Hel . And the missionaries believing the Vulgate thought the afterlife was an Inferno- thus it was real in their minds plus we all want converts, it makes our egos get bigger. So presto Hell. Luther translates his German Bible using a derivative “Holle” - and the English Bibles had already been using Hell- Wycliffe, then Tyndale. Every pagan religion had some sort of Hell even with Reincarnation into a worse state. English Bibles only axed the Apocrypha in 1666. So in reality the Church is very young.Basically only the King James Version was available til 1885. So the Church is so so young. A hundred years from now or 5 thousand years from now these ridiculous concepts like Hell and the Tabloid End of the World beliefs will be either forgotten or thought of as strange footnotes in history. Both are very vengeful. And people love vengeance and punishing the bad guy. Many popular movies play on that. So Hell and End Times so consume such fleshly delights. And they seem so Biblical. And novices gets on the pulpit and voila a voice feeds that carnal delight in hate, in murder and revenge. And every year false predictions of the end of the world come and go, books are sold and the church is fooled again. So there is no ECT Hell, and there is no End if the World. These twin brothers will go. The truth will win.

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Welcome, EddieK. You make some very good points! I agree with you that,

However, I still believe there is temporary suffering in Hades for those who die unrepentant; but that Hades (filled with Satan’s POWs) will eventually be cast into God’s corrective lake of fire.

Again, I agree. I believe many people mistakenly conflate God and Satan, as I discuss in “Is God Violent, or Nonviolent?

Again, I agree. There is no end; rather, all things will be made new. However, as a futurist, I believe there will indeed be a literal Antichrist, raptures, and the physical Second Coming of Christ (as I discuss in “The Temple, the Antichrist, and the Structure of Revelation”).

But specifically regarding Gehenna, here are four quotes from another thread titled “Gehenna is Hades,” showing an alternative viewpoint about it for your consideration: